Arsenal next? How each ‘big six’ club last fared in a season out of Europe

Quick Reads

Arsenal‘s Europa League semi-final defeat to Unai Emery’s Villarreal ensured that they’ll be without silverware this season.

Not only that, but they’re facing the prospect of failing to qualify for European competition for the first time in over 25 years, something that their big-name Premier League rivals – including Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United – have had to deal with much more recently.

Winning the Europa League would have been a route back into the Champions League for Mikel Arteta’s Gunners, which is impossible for them to achieve via a top-four finish in the Premier League. Not only that, but a top-six finish for Europe’s secondary competition also looks out of reach.

It would have been unthinkable while Arsene Wenger famously led the club to top-four finishes in 20 consecutive years, but there is a silver lining: their Premier League ‘big six’ rivals have used the extra preparation time on the training pitch as a springboard back to success in the past.

Here’s how each member of the ‘big six’ fared the last time they failed to qualify for European competition, including the last time Arsenal themselves did so all the way back in 1995-96.

Chelsea (2016-17)

Jose Mourinho’s title-winners suffered an unprecedented drop in form in the first half of their 2015-16 campaign, which was memorably, scathingly referred to by his full-time successor Antonio Conte as a “Mourinho season”.

The Portuguese coach was sacked in December after a 2-1 defeat to that year’s champions Leicester City in December 2015, with the Blues unthinkably down near the relegation zone.

Interim boss Guus Hiddink was only able to salvage a 10th-placed finish, which meant a first and only campaign without European football of the Roman Abramovich era.

The summer of 2016 saw Mourinho appointed at Manchester United and Pep Guardiola’s arrival at Manchester City, with Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino already in place at Liverpool and Tottenham, but it was Conte that did best in 2016-17.

Bolstered by the arrival of Leicester’s title-winner N’Golo Kante, Conte’s Chelsea won the title emphatically, with the absence of European excursions allowing the Italian to implement an incredibly effective back three system.

READ: ‘He’s a little man’ – Remembering Conte and Mourinho’s brief yet iconic rivalry

Liverpool (2016-17)

Having been appointed as Brendan Rodgers’ successor mid-season, Jurgen Klopp was unable to turn around Liverpool’s poor Premier League form as they slumped to a disappointing 8th-place finish in 2015-16, while defeats in the League Cup and Europa League finals denied them a route into Europe. 

The German coach was unable to emulate Conte’s success at Chelsea in 2016-17 – although to be fair, he didn’t inherit the core of a title-winning squad – but he did get the Reds back into the Champions League with a fourth-place finish, having edged ahead of Wenger’s Arsenal by just a point.

The rest is history – the promise of top-tier European football allowed the club to attract the likes of Mohamed Salah, Virgil Van Dijk and Allison Becker, and they reached the Kyiv final in their first season back. They went on to win it the following year, with a first Premier League title the year after that.

Manchester United (2014-15)

David Moyes was dismissed after it became clear that United weren’t going to qualify for the Champions League – quite a culture shock after over 25 straight years in the competition under Sir Alex Ferguson.

Not only that, but they didn’t even make it into the Europa League after finishing 7th, the club’s lowest placing since 1990.

Fresh from leading the Netherlands to a third place at the 2014 World Cup, Van Gaal arrived at Old Trafford with a remit of getting the club back where it belonged. The eccentric Dutchman failed to mount a title challenge, but he led the club to a comfortable fourth place in 2014-15, before dropping to fifth in his second year.

Van Gaal left as an FA Cup winner, but his legacy in terms of signings is somewhat mixed.

READ: Where are they now? The 18 players Louis van Gaal signed for Man Utd

Manchester City (2009-10)

Newly-minted Man City reached the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup in 2008-09, but the arrival of marquee signing Robinho failed to spark anything better than a midtable finish.

But considerable backing in the first full summer of the Sheikh Mansour ownership – over £100million spent on the likes of Gareth Barry, Emmanuel Adebayor and Carlos Tevez – resulted in a much improved top-four push in 2009-10, with an upturn in results after Roberto Mancini replaced Mark Hughes midway through.

They couldn’t quite make it, setting for fifth, having been pipped to a top-four finish by…

Tottenham (2009-10)

Harry Redknapp turned Spurs form around after inheriting a side down in the relegation zone in October 2008. They steadily rose up the table and finished a respectable eighth in 2008-09.

Without the distraction of Europe, and boosted by the rise of Gareth Bale and the arrival of future cult hero Peter Crouch, Redknapp’s side sustained a much-improved campaign in 2009.

Champions League football (for the first time in the Premier League era, having so cruelly been denied by Lasagnegate in 2006) was famously secured with a 1-0 away win at top-four rivals Man City in the penultimate match of the season.

Crouch’s 82nd-minute match-winner sparked delirious scenes of celebrations in the away end, and among the players post-match. A hugely significant goal that shepherded a new era for Spurs, with an uninterrupted decade of European football, and many memorable Champions League nights to come.

Arsenal (1995-96)

Ian Wright was at the peak of his powers in the mid-90s, but his 18 Premier League goals (and 30 in all competitions) couldn’t save the Gunners from an underwhelming 12th-place finish in 1994-95 – the club’s modern-day nadir until recent times.

But good times were soon around the corner. Bruce Rioch steadied the ship with a passable fifth-place finish in 1995-96, getting the Gunners back into the UEFA Cup, and soon enough Wenger would arrive to change everything.

More from Planet Football

The four times two English sides have faced each other in a European final

Can you name every team to compete in a Champions League final?

Ranking every current Prem club by net spend over last five years: LFC sixth

Saliba next? Eight players who became Arsenal regulars after a loan away

Planet Football Stories