Happy Valentine’s Day to every Premier League team fighting for the Champions League places. UEFA has banned Manchester City from the Champions League for the next two seasons and has fined the club €30M. Technically it’s a ban from all European competitions, but for City, that means the CL.
Getting into the jargon (because who doesn’t love that) — the Adjudicatory Chamber of the Club Financial Control Body of UEFA found Manchester City committed “serious breaches of the UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations by overstating its sponsorship revenue” in information submitted between 2012 and 2016. They further found that City had failed to cooperate in the investigation of the case.
Shortly after the UEFA statement was released, Manchester City issued a statement that the club was “disappointed but not surprised” by the ruling and that it would appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). City had previously attempted to shut down the investigation with an interlocutory appeal to CAS, but the court found the club must go through the entirety of the disciplinary process at UEFA before it could properly take it’s case up the chain.
Although CAS could reduce or strike down the ban completely, the decision is a temporary win for the Financial Fair Play regulations. The rules, designed to prevent clubs from spending more than they earn (read: to stop ultra-rich owners from buying European titles), were largely seen as toothless and perfunctory. They were a good idea that wasn’t actually going to accomplish anything.
That is, until today when UEFA brought the banhammer crashing down on Manchester City. Although nothing is set in stone until the appeal has run its course, the decision means that the fifth place finisher in the Premier League will automatically qualify for next season’s Champions League. That means sixth place automatically qualifies for the Europa League group stage.
But there is more.
As always, the FA Cup winner and the Carabao Cup winner will qualify for the group stage and the qualification stage, respectively. When the cup winners have already qualified for European football, the spots go to the highest and next-high league finisher not already qualified for Europe.
Manchester City play Aston Villa in the Carabao Cup final on March 1st. If City win, that Europa League qualification stage spot will shift to table finish.
All of the current top six teams in the table plus Arsenal and Manchester United are alive in the FA Cup (one of Chelsea or Liverpool are going out in the next round because the two play each other). Barring some FA Cup magic, the winner will already be qualified for Europe, meaning that automatic qualification spot will shift to table finish as well.
TL;DR — there is a good chance the sixth, seventh, and eighth place finishers in the Premier League are headed to the Europa League next season.
So what does it all mean for Arsenal? For starters, they are now 8 points off a Champions League place with a game in hand on Sheffield in fifth. Yes, there are four teams between them the Blades, and they are tied with three other teams on 31 points. But the “top four trophy” just became a “top five trophy” and the door is creaking open.
More importantly, getting back to the Europa League just got easier. Regardless of what you may think of the competition, EL qualification brings money. Arsenal need money. Having it be easier to get money is A Good Thing (sorry for writing the worst rap ever).
It’s also a reminder of what could have been this season. Apart from Liverpool running away at the top, the Premier League is wide open. With a better performance to open the campaign and/or quicker, more decisive action from the front office, Arsenal could have been in a Champions League spot already. But what’s done is done.
The Gunners were just handed a lifeline. What they do with it is anyone’s guess. One thing is for sure, the next three months in the Premier League are going to be wild.