Big Debate: Is a top four finish a fair expectation of Arsenal this season?

Arsenal’s hopes of a top four finish took a hit on Sunday as they slumped to a 3-1 defeat to the reigning Premier League champions, Manchester City, at the Etihad Stadium. 

When Unai Emery replaced the long-serving Arsene Wenger as Arsenal manager in the summer, a key part of his remit will have been to bring Champions League football back to the Emirates Stadium as soon as possible.

However, with the Gunners in such fierce competition for a top four finish with the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City, qualification for the Champions League via this route in his first season in charge was always going to be a big ask.

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Football FanCast’s Christy Malyan and Will Jones debate whether or a not a top four finish represents a fair expectation of Arsenal this season.

Jones: For

Arsenal have a squad capable of competing for the top four, so the expectation should be that they achieve that. That is not to say that Emery should lose his job should they fall short, but it should be clear that the club have big ambitions and expect the side to perform to the best of their abilities.

To expect less would be to lose the battle from the outset. Of course the competition is fierce, but the Gunners should feel that they can go toe to toe with anyone on their day. The expectation, then, should be that they do all they can to capitalise upon their potential, and they have the potential to achieve a top four finish.

Malyan: Against

In an era where there are six top teams battling for four Champions League spots, no club should ever ‘expect’ to finish inside the top four. Of course, some clubs will have a much better chance than others – in this instance, Liverpool and Manchester City – but margins are so fine that any club could easily miss out, especially when they’re undergoing the same transition as Arsenal are this season.

During Pep Guardiola’s first campaign at the Etihad Stadium, City finished inside the top four by just three points, and that was with a team that qualified for Champions League the term previous. There are many underlying issues with this Arsenal squad, chief amongst them that a significant portion of the wage bill is tied up in a player who barely starts these days, that finishing inside the top four would be a minor miracle.

Arsenal should take City under Guardiola as the example here, accept it’s a transition season and plan for better times ahead under Unai Emery.