Gunners title winner Perry Groves says heads will roll even if 2018 vintage achieves European glory
European glory is the only antidote for Arsenal to salvage anything from an average season, according to club legend Perry Groves.
The Gunners are languishing in sixth place in the Premier League – 10 points behind the Champions League qualification spots – and after an early exit in the FA Cup and a humbling 3-0 defeat to Manchester City in last weekend’s League Cup final, are braced for their worst season since manager Arsene Wenger took charge.
Yet former Arsenal forward Groves believes it’s too early to write the campaign off just yet and points towards the Europa League as the north London club’s remaining beacon of hope.
“The Europa League is a huge, huge thing for Arsenal at the moment,” said Groves, who was part of Arsenal’s title-winning teams of 1989 and 1991.
“The pressure is ramped up ten-fold on the Europa League because that’s how the season will now be judged. For Arsenal fans, it’s black and white: if we win the Europa League and come sixth, it means you’ve had a good season because you’ve won a big trophy. It you don’t win and you’re out of the top four, you haven’t had a good season – it’s that simple.
“At the beginning of the season, I said I’d make the Europa League our priority because I didn’t think we’d finish in the top four. I’m not being wise after the event, but I just thought that – looking at the other squads and hunger they had – we’d struggle to be in the top four.
“It has to be the priority because, in that competition, we’re seven games away from being in the Champions League.”
Advancing to the latter stages and going up against the likes of Dortmund and Atletico Madrid to win the Europa League is no easy task though, especially after Arsenal limped into the last 16 with a home defeat to Swedish minnows Ostersunds in the last round.
And if that chastening experience wasn’t enough for Arsene Wenger and his team, there’s the little matter of European giants AC Milan in the next round – although Groves is confident of progressing past the seven-time European champions.
“AC Milan are a superpower, but they’re a bit like Arsenal – they’re not the force they were,” Groves explained.
“It’s not that bad of a draw. They’re something like seventh in Serie A and spent a lot of money in the summer, but are still a long way away from winning the league, like us. So, especially being away from home first, it’s not such a bad draw.”
Regardless of whether Arsenal do get their hands on the Europa League trophy in May, Groves does believe that there will be a lot more transfer activity at the Emirates Stadium this summer.
A number of first teamers – including mainstays Theo Walcott and Alexis Sanchez – exited the club during the January transfer window and while Groves wouldn’t be drawn on who he expects to follow, he is certain more would.
“There are a few players there who are decent footballers, but they’re probably not good enough to be in Arsenal’s first team – there is a little bit of mediocrity at the moment,” he said.
“There needs to be a change of attitude and focus, and there are a few players who a bit too complacent. The likes of Walcott, (Francis) Coquelin and (Olivier) Giroud have gone, so it looks as though there is a bit of sea change at the club.
“It’s gradually happening. There is a new football hierarchy at the club, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang are excellent signings, but it’ll be an evolution rather than a revolution. After recent performances, there will be four or five players in the squad who won’t be there next year.
“It’s not going to happen overnight – whether Arsene’s manager or not – and we’re looking at least another season for that culture to change.”
Perry was speaking exclusively to Play With A Legend following the 2018 Carabao Cup Final.