As it currently stands, Arsenal have very little chance of qualifying for the Champions League next season unless Mikel Arteta can work miracles very quickly and get us on a long, long winning run right until the end of the season.
But that is highly unlikely, given that we are languishing in tenth place and have only had two away wins from 11 attempts so far this season. It will be nigh on impossible to gain 12 points on Chelsea and Man United in our last 16 games.
So having said that, surely it would make perfect sense for Mikel Arteta to target one of the Cups to get a real chance at European Football in the next campaign. So that leaves the FA Cup and the Europa League as the only realistic targets for our new coach.
Obviously winning the Europa would be the Holy Grail for us, as it would get us back into the Champions League. Having reached the semi-finals two years ago and the Final last season, it is not so far-fetched to think that could go the final step this season and actually win it.
There does seem to be some really good teams in the Europa this year, including Man United of course, but with Solksjaer’s side currently in a battle for the coveted Wenger Trophy for the last Champions League slot, they may not be prioritising the Europa League, which we certainly must do. We could also face a challenge from Wolves, who are flying high in the Premier League and vying for sixth place with Sheffield United and Tottenham at the moment.
We all remember Unai Emery practically throwing away our chance of a Top Four place last season by keeping all his best players for the Europa League, a ploy that spectacularly backfired on the so-called Europa League specialist when we were severely embarrassed 4-1 by Chelsea in the Final in Baku. But there should be a Hobson’s choice available to Arteta by the end of this campaign unless that miracle that I mentioned happens of course. As long as we stay away from the relegation zone we can concentrate fully on our Cup Challenges.
Arsenal were always amongst the favourites for the Europa last season, but after having a look at Oddschecker for the best odds available on the Gunners this season, you can find them priced as high as 9/1 to win this competition for the very first time, which is a pretty good deal when you look at our recent form in the competition.
This years campaign started extremely well, with Unai Emery selecting our youngsters who impressively gave us three clear wins against Frankfurt, Standard Liege and Vittoria Guimaraes, but as the malaise set in under Emery we failed to win any of our last three Group games, but still managed to cling on to top spot in our Group.
This has set us up for a very interesting tie against the Greek Super League Champions Olympiakos, who were thrown out of their Champions League Group by Bayern Munich and Tottenham, despite our rivals being thrashed by the German Champions 7-2. They are currently still top of the Super League and haven’t lost any League games in the last 11 months, but in Europe they have shown their true level, although they did manage a draw against Tottenham at home in the Champions League Group. They are normally hard to beat at home with their incredible support, but their away form is not so good except in Qualifiers. I must admit though that Olympiakos did win 3-2 at the Emirates in 2015 despite us having 70% of the possession.
We should manage to get past the Greek Champions though, and then there could be much tougher opponents from then on. Man United are the favourites with most bookies at a best priced 13/2 on Oddschecker after drawing Club Bruges in the next round. The Belgian League leaders are also no pushovers and could cause a shock, which could see Arsenal’s price come down. Wolves, who have a tricky tie at La Liga’s Espanyol, are variously priced between 12/1 and as high as 17/1 in places. We must also give a little mention to the UK teams from North of the border, with Celtic priced at 50/1 after being given a tie against Copenhagen, and Rangers as high as 150/1 after drawing Braga from Portugal. Both of them have good chances of making the next round.
So let us look at the other talented sides from other Leagues that we could possibly meet as we progress. High on anyone’s list must be Ajax, who were cruelly beaten by Tottenham in the semi-final of last year’s Champions League, but were narrowly edged out of this season’s Group Stages by Chelsea. They are still top of the Eredvisie and are priced between 6/1 and 8/1 after getting Getafe in the draw.
Next we have Inter Milan, who are just a couple of points below Juventus in Serie A. They unsurprising failed to qualify for the knockouts in the Champions League after coming up against Dortmund and Barcelona in their ECL Group. We could possibly be welcoming Alexis Sanchez back at the Emirates if we get drawn against them, but hopefully not until the later stages of the competition.
How about Sevilla, who are definitely a Europa League specialist with 3 trophies under Unai Emery. They have drawn CF Cluj in the next round and were always going to be one of the favourites with their previous record. They are currently in 4th place in La Liga and won their first five games in the Group Stages to make sure of top spot and are always going to be hard to beat.
So, Man United, Ajax, Inter Milan and Sevilla look likely to be our biggest rivals for the Europa League trophy this season, and there are other possibilities like Wolfsburg, Bayer Leverkusen, Roma and Salzburg to consider, but but to be honest, other than the first four mentioned we should not be scared to face anyone else in the competition.
That makes me think that backing Arsenal at this stage of the competition likes like a healthy investment at 9/1.
What do you think?