With the title race effectively coming down to just three realistic contenders now, there is only one spot remaining for qualification into next season’s Champions’ League. Currently, Aston Villa are sitting fourth on 48 points, with a nice five point gap separating them from Arsenal who are in fifth. Although Villa have accrued the same number of points as Chelsea, I just don’t see them being able to last the distance and put in a genuine title challenge. Although it would be nice for a wildcard like Villa to shake things up at the very pinnacle, I think it’s too soon for them to be contenders.
So back to the original point, Aston Villa remain in pole position to take the last Champions’ League spot from seasoned campaigners Arsenal. Domestically, it would be fantastic to see someone else muscle in on the big four but would it be beneficial for the Premiership’s European status? Currently the league stands as the best in the world as the Premiership’s four regular competitors for Europe’s elite prize have all reached the final in the last three years. In comparison to other leagues, where Real Madrid (the world’s most successful club arguably) struggle to make the quarter final stage each year and Italian sides feature on a sporadic basis at best, the Premiership provides serious challengers season after season.
The inclusion of Aston Villa in the Champions’ League at the expense of Arsenal could have a detrimental effect on England’s dominance of Europe. Whereas English teams stroll through to the latter stages, Villa could be drawn against an experienced European side (Valencia for example) in the third round qualifying stage and subsequently find themselves in the UEFA Cup, much like Everton did in 2005. And then, even if they did qualify for the group stages (which for the record would be a massively commendable achievement), I fear that they would struggle to make any impact on the competition.
Arsenal being in the UEFA Cup wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing as they would probably be considered among the favourites to lift the trophy, should they still have their current crop of players. However, would their stars like Fabregas, Adebayor, Van Persie, etc, really want to hang about when a host of top European sides could offer them an escape, and could Arsenal turn down big offers without the financial rewards that come with Champions’ League football? I doubt Arsenal would sell these players to domestic rivals so other leagues would then reap the benefits of their clubs purchasing some of the Premiership’s most exciting players.
All I’m getting at is that a team such as Arsenal not qualifying for the Champions League could have long term consequences, not just for themselves, but for the Premiership as a whole, as a spectacle. Would someone like Adebayor really want to stick around at Arsenal for a season that doesn’t involve playing in the biggest European competition? The prospect of this happening would really test the loyalty and allegiances of a Fabregas, a Van Persie, who could have their pick of clubs across the continent. I for one would like to see Villa break the top four this season, but not at the longer team expense of the quality of football and footballers that are witnessed each week in the Premiership. However, if Martin O’Neill were to sign all of Arsenal’s top players in the summer and keep them in England, then by all means Villa, go and win the league for all I care. Now that would be impressive.