This will be similar to my League Cup article, and here, I will be explaining why I think Arsenal should not exclude the Europa League as one of their targets.
The Europa League isn’t seen as a priority amongst many clubs, especially those that are in England. (Excluding Everton, maybe).
Arsenal playing in Europe’s second tier tournament is no embarrassment. We’ve seen the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United, and Liverpool compete in the past, with two of the three sides winning the tournament (2013, and 2017 respectively).
Nevertheless, here is why Arsenal should not disregard Europe’s secondary tournament. We’ve all seen what Arsenal are like in recent seasons on the European stage. Finish second in our group (first last season), then lose to either Barcelona, or Bayern Munich in the last 16. I’ve been thinking for a couple of years that Europa League is a tournament Arsenal need if they are to properly challenge again. I think that this tournament will be a baptism of fire.
I’ll expand on “properly challenge again”. In similar vain to what I said about the League Cup, Arsenal could use Europe’s second tier tournament to achieve bigger aspirations. Four English sides have reached the latter stages of the tournament, with three of them being Liverpool (2010 & 2016), Chelsea, and Manchester United (both respective years mentioned earlier). (For obvious reasons, I’m not using Fulham as an example, although I could do, but they don’t feature in Europe every season). Now, I’m using those sides as an example as to why Arsenal should be competing in the Europa League, and not just to make money. I’m saying that for a big club like Arsenal, they should be looking to make it all the way to the final, even if it takes a big hit on their title aspirations. (Sometimes, sacrifices should be made).
With the Europa League being backdoor into the Champions League, that’s another reason why Arsenal cannot afford to treat this tournament with contempt. Imagine a situation where Arsenal don’t win the Europa League, and fail to finish in the top four for a second successive season? We’d be talking about why Arsenal didn’t do better [in the Europa League].
That brings me onto another question. If the Europa League winner (in this case, Manchester United) weren’t guaranteed a Champions League spot, would they have taken as seriously as they did? But that’s another conversation for another time. Speaking of Manchester United, Jose Mourinho said that the tournament isn’t “Chelsea competition”. Let’s hope Arsene Wenger doesn’t treat it with disdain.
I just hope we will not see Wenger field a second string side in the group stage. The only time I would find that acceptable is if we see Arsenal qualify for the next stage, and win the first leg comfortably (thus being assured of going through to the second knockout stage). This is a tournament Arsenal shouldn’t use as a “second” League Cup.
Although there are arguments as to why Arsenal shouldn’t take the Europa League seriously (so as to aide a REAL title challenge), I think that the Europa League is a tournament Arsenal should go all out for whether we see them challenge for the title, or finish 4th, or 5th.
A push for the title, and European glory is near impossible, with FC Porto achieving just that in the 2010-11 season, but they played 30 league games, eight short of what Arsenal will be playing this season. Also, FC Porto did start their Europa League campaign from the play-offs, but Arsenal will start their campaign from the group stage. (At least we can take some pride in avoiding the play-offs).
What do you think? Should Arsenal go all out for the Europa League? Should we see them challenge for the Premier League instead?