Needless to say, the FA Cup third round weekend wasn’t the happiest for us Arsenal supporters was it? We’re a club with a proud record in that competition that includes three trophies in the last four years, but that all capitulated at the hands of Championship side Nottingham Forest on Sunday, and it could now be a long second half of the season for us Gunners.
Of course we remain in the EFL Cup where we’re due to play against Chelsea at the semi-final stage tomorrow night, but perhaps a more favourable route back amongst Europe’s top teams could lie elsewhere. Could the Europa League yet propel Arsenal back into the continent’s elite competition.
Days in Europa
Manchester United and their manager Jose Mourinho had no qualms about taking the most circuitous route into Champions League football last season. The Red Devils finished some way outside of the top four Premier League places but victory over Ajax in the final was enough to see them step up.
Online sportsbooks have Arsenal at a distant 500/1 in their Premier League betting outright market so clearly a more likely target is the Europa League where the Gunners are second favourites at 6/1 behind Atletico Madrid.
Next up for Wenger’s men as the competition reaches the knockout stages is a tie with Ostersund and many pundits feel that Arsenal have been given the most favourable draw of all. The Swedish side were formed as recently as 1996 and the Gunners are fully expected to breeze through to the next round but aside from the obvious claims of Atleti, who stands between Arsenal and European glory?
Borussia Dortmund were expected to get out of their Champions League group and Gunners fans would have been displeased to see rivals Tottenham brush past the opposition and take the Germans’ place. Dortmund now drop down to the Europa League where they are third favourites to lift the trophy at the end of the season.
The Italian trio of AC Milan, Napoli and Lazio follow but they are distant options with many pundits believing that the 2018 Europa League essentially comes down to a battle between Arsenal and Atletico Madrid.
Arsenal started their Europa League campaign strongly, recording three straight wins against Cologne, BATE Borisov and Red Star Belgrade to establish a lead at the top of their group. With qualification almost certain, Wenger started to tinker with the starting XI and the Gunners rather coasted through their remaining fixtures, drawing with Red Star and losing to Cologne before thumping BATE 6-0 in the final game.
Now, the manager must decide where his priorities lie for the remainder of 2017/18 and while Arsenal are still active in three competitions, their elimination from the FA Cup makes the decision somewhat easier.
Towards the end of last season, Jose Mourinho effectively conceded the Top Four race by fielding inexperienced sides in the final EPL games as he made the Europa League a priority. Arsenal aren’t at that stage just yet but after 22 games, they are five points behind Liverpool who occupy the final Champions League slot.
Mourinho’s gamble paid off and Arsene Wenger may soon be faced with the same decision; whether to target Europa League glory as the most likely route to appeasing supporters and qualifying for the Champions League at the same time.