So there we have it, Arsenal’s doomed fate is as good as sealed after Villarreal’s catastrophic exit from the Europa League on Thursday evening.
Since the Gunners urgently had to make up a 2-1 deficit in the semi-final second leg in the Emirates, the men of Mikel Arteta delivered another flimsy performance in a nightmare season.
And the two-game loss to Villarreal has for the first time since the 1995/96 season pushed Arsenal to the edge of missing out on European football completely.
Arsenal, languishing in ninth place in the Premier League with only four games left, are now in great danger of slipping further into mediocrity.
The next season is already proving crucial to the club’s future – miss out on European football and it will be a long and daunting road back to the top.
Here, Sports mail takes a close look at what happened the last time Arsenal failed to secure their seat in Europe in the 1995/96 season.
Arsenal will forego European football altogether after losing to Villarreal in the Europa League
In the 1994/95 season, Arsenal finished 12th and second in the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup and lost 2-1 to Real Zaragoza in the final.
Nayim had shattered Arsenal’s hearts with long-range praise against David Seaman in the final moments of extra time. It was a moment fans will never forget for all the wrong reasons and the club faced a rough summer with no prospect of European football.
It has been a tumultuous season for the club in general, with George Graham being sacked in February 1995 after it was found he’d received more than Â£ 400,000 in total from the transfers that took John Jensen and Pal Lydersen to Highbury.
It was a bitter pill for Arsenal supporters as Graham led the Gunners to six trophies in eight seasons and in 1989 ended the 18-year-old wait for a league title in the most dramatic way against rivals Liverpool.
Graham’s layoff brought Arsenal a little back to first place and he was replaced by caretaker Stewart Houston until the end of the season. Then came Bruce Rioch, who was hired to do a rebuild job at Highbury to relieve the club of the “Boring, Boring Arsenal” nickname that had cropped up in Graham’s previous seasons.
Rioch was named Arsenal manager after leading Bolton to successive promotions, but his year-long tenure is barely remembered in north London.
Bruce Rioch was in charge of Arsenal’s 1995/96 season outside of Europe
His time at Highbury has been somewhat overshadowed by falling out relationships with high-profile stars, including Ian Wright, while he also had a frosty partnership with vice chairman David Dein.
He’s not all too well remembered in Arsenal’s prestigious history as he was dismissed as the man who simply kept Arsene Wenger’s seat warm, but it wasn’t all bad for him and the current Gunners crop may have hope from his only one take full season.
Getting to the point, his enduring legacy at Highbury led Dennis Bergkamp to sign for Â£ 7.5m from Inter Milan in June 1995.
The Dutchman’s confidence had taken a big blow during a difficult two-year stint in Italy at the San Siro and it took some time to get going in the Arsenal shirt. It was only in his sixth game against Southampton that Bergkamp scored his first goal for the club.
And the rest is history. He would play 423 games in all competitions for the Gunners, score 120 goals while bringing extravagance to North London and the Premier League.
Rioch also managed to get England star David Platt through the door from Sampdoria just weeks later for Â£ 4.75 million. At first glance, he seemed like a perfect new signing for Arsenal, and while things didn’t go according to plan for him at Highbury, there was certainly a feel-good factor with Arsenal’s summer signings – it signaled the manager’s intention to play more aggressively, possession-based style.
And now the season begins. And after the turmoil of the previous campaign, it finally ended quite successfully for the Gunners.
Dennis Bergkamp was signed under the direction of Rioch in the summer of 1995
Bergkamp celebrated his first Arsenal goal against Southampton in September 1995
In addition to Bergkamp, ââDavid Platt was also signed – with their arrival excited
Rioch was helped by the presence of the iconic five-piece chain, including Seaman, Lee Dixon, Tony Adams, Steve Bould and Nigel Winterburn. They showed little sign of their advanced years to help Arsenal concede the fewest goals in the league this season (32).
But while her defense remained firm, Rioch conveyed a style of play that was easier on the eye.
The Scot knew from the start what he wanted in Highbury. “I wanted to leave the long ball era behind us and start getting the defense to pass balls through midfield instead of just throwing the ball forward.”
And Arsenal got off to a strong start to the 95-96 season, only losing to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Matchday eight.
But a loss in the North London Derby at White Hart Lane in November signaled the start of a terrible time – Rioch’s side won only three of the next twelve Premier League games against Sheffield Wednesday, Queens Park Rangers and Middlesbrough.
And it was during that time that they crashed out of the FA Cup after losing to Sheffield United in the third round.
However, Rioch managed to stabilize the ship and move Arsenal to fifth place and bring them back with participation in the UEFA Cup in Europe after losing only twice in their last 13 Premier League games.
Tony Adams and his defense colleagues were instrumental in bringing Arsenal to fifth place in 1995-96
In Rioch’s only full season, the Scot led Arsenal from twelfth place the previous season to fifth with no European distractions.
He also improved Arsenal’s goal difference by 14, which was massively supported by the aforementioned legendary defense.
Arsenal had made significant strides, but Rioch’s tenure in the English capital was overshadowed by his argument with star striker and fan favorite Wright – with the two having had a tumultuous relationship throughout.
Wright even filed a transfer request after verbally arguing with his manager following the FA Cup loss to Sheffield United.
Wright was used to eating rags and long balls from defense under Graham, but with the development of a philosophy based on possession, he quickly began to starve to death after serving.
The English star made his feelings for Rioch clear to Vice Chairman Dein and the letter was soon on the wall for the manager.
Simultaneously with his heated relationship with Wright, Rioch’s disputes with Dein and the Arsenal board over transfers led to his demise in the summer of 1996. And it should soon be just a footnote in the club’s history.
Arsenal would then reappoint Houston and then Pat Rice as temporary first-team chief while the board looked for Rioch’s permanent successor.
Rioch’s tenure in north London was marred by his falling out relationship with Ian Wright
Arsenal would eventually appoint the relatively unknown Wenger to coach Japanese team Nagoya Grampus Eight, but if had gone your own way, Rioch would not have been responsible at all in the 95/96 season.
Dein had been following Wenger for some time and actually promoted the French to boss when Graham was fired simply because the board was reluctant to appoint a foreign manager.
But yours soon caught on, and the rest is history with Wenger at the helm. In its first season, in which the club found its way back to Europe, Arsenal finished third in the Premier League and narrowly missed the Champions League qualification at Newcastle due to the goal difference.
Wenger would then lead Arsenal into an era of dominance along with then bitter rivals Manchester United.
The Gunners would win three Premier League titles, including the 2003-04 Invincibles season, and a record-breaking seven FA Cups under the French as they became a mainstay in Europe.
Arsenal have stayed in Europe for a remarkable 26 straight seasons but that is now coming to an end.
And, like in 1996, the wounded Gunners will be desperately looking for a quick way back to Europe.
Arsene Wenger was Rioch’s permanent successor at Arsenal and the rest was history