The Europa League was the best thing to happen to Arsenal this season
Arsenal’s Europa League campaign began in perfect fashion as the Gunners saw off a wasteful Eintracht Frankfurt side to walk away with a frankly surprising 3-0 victory. It is tempting to argue that Arsenal should be playing Champions League football this season in place of sides who they beat on their road to Baku, such as Napoli and Valencia. This claim was only strengthened by the victories both sides recorded in their opening fixtures against Liverpool and Chelsea respectively. The truth is, however, that the Europa League is the perfect competition for Arsenal to be in right now, as this piece shall now explain.
Aiding the transition process
The summer overhaul of Arsenal football club saw a whole host of high-profile departures, such as Petr Cech, Laurent Koscielny and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Whilst Arsenal fans will (probably correctly) argue that the savings on the wage bill far outweigh what they offered to the club, the fact remains that they were all experienced players.
This means that this season will be both exciting and dangerous. Arsenal will be forced, through rotation, to field their youth talents more frequently. Some, such as Reiss Nelson and Joe Willock, have begun promisingly, whilst Emile Smith-Rowe and Bukayo Saka were good against Frankfurt. Saka in particularly impressed, picking up a goal and two assists, gaining him the MOTM award. Throw Gabriel Martinelli, Zach Medley and Robbie Burton into the mix, and the future looks bright for coming seasons at Arsenal.
A place to learn
All of the above are players with the potential to be world-class, but they also lack the experience and know-how of the players that they are replacing. As former boss Arsene Wenger succinctly surmised, ‘you pay the education of young players with points’. In this regard, the Europa League is the perfect competition for Arsenal this season, as they will play lower quality opposition which in turn means these mistakes will be less costly.
By contrast, the Champions League is a far bigger stage and one on which mistakes are magnified due to the quality of opponents. Playing in Europe’s second-tier competition will allow the likes of Medley and Smith-Rowe to bed into the Arsenal senior squad without costing the club too much in terms of results. This is even more the case in the early stages of the competition, in which we often see heavy rotation.
This was shown against Frankfurt, in which Saka, Willock and Smith-Rowe all started. All three undoubtedly picked up valuable experience from the match, which can only improve them as players.
Chances of a trophy
Not even the most die-hard Arsenal fan would suggest that the club could win the Champions League this season if we were in it. That is the sad truth of the matter. The squad is not good enough, and it would likely end in an embarrassment similar to those which we have experienced at the hands of Bayern Munich previously. Equally, Arsenal stand little-to-no chance of competing with either Manchester City or Liverpool for the Premier League.
The Europa League, however, offers a far more under-the-radar and also a realistic chance of silverware. In the previous two years, Arsenal have reached the semi-final and the final of the competition, and surely are this year better equipped to go one further. Getting back into the illustrious Champions League will be the key, and probably only, thing which Unai Emery will be judged on. As such, the Europa League offers a second chance to get back into it, which would, in turn, represent a successful season.
For a squad in transition and with clear holes, as Arsenal have, the Champions League would have been a step too far, whereas the Europa League is a competition in which we can actually compete. It doesn’t have the glitz and glamour of its older brother, and it makes Premier League fixtures a pain, but it does offer more to Arsenal than the Champions League would have this season.
The bittersweet reality
It is a tricky position for Arsenal this season, who have lost the experienced back-up options but are also expected to challenge for every competition which they are in. The youth talents are exciting, but not yet ready to consistently perform on the biggest stages. Individual errors may cost Arsenal games due to their inexperience, not to mention the all-too-common errors from experienced players. Personally, however, I will be looking at performances over results in the Europa League, at least until Christmas. These players can only get better, and the Europa League is the perfect place for them to ply their trade.