Let’s be honest, however the Europa League Draw yesterday had gone we would be huge favourites to progress to the knock-out stages.
Our group allows Arteta to carry on the policy of previous regimes where essentially we should be able to field an entirely different 11 in the Europa League to the one who starts in the Premiership. Our biggest obstacle of winning the competition is finding out who drops down from the Champions League.
My biggest takeaway from Group B is if ever there were two fixtures which underlined how crowds are missed in stadiums, then it’s got to be Dundalk home and away. Imagine the noise the Irish would make at the Emirates? As for Gooners who love an away day, you could have had a long weekend in Ireland.
Anyway here is more of a detailed breakdown of our 3 opponents by using my contacts and sources…
Rapid will be disappointed to be in the Europa League as they only had to beat Genk to be in the Champions League. A young team, with only one player over the age of 30. They are the most successful team in Austria with 32 titles although the last was 12 years ago, their last major trophy.
Salzburg have replaced them as the powerhouse In that country. In fact the last two decades have been their least productive having dominated previously. It will be a huge blow for them not to have their fans at the Allianz Stadium. Their ultras are famous throughout the world for a slow clap in the final 15 minutes of games regardless of the score line. That’s often been credited for Vienna’s amount of late goals. Of course that won’t be a factor till next year at the earliest.
In their current squad only 7 are not domestic based players yet very few have senior caps which should tell you the level they are at.
In fact their best talent is probably from Greece, Taxiarchis Fountas, who scored 22 goals in 30 games last season.
Knocked out in the last 32 of this competition was their best run in Europe since 1996. At this stage of the Europa League 12 months ago, Rapid did get results against Rangers, Moscow and Villarreal but an intimidating atmosphere played a huge part in that. They will miss their ‘Ultra Rapids’ who would have at least mentally tested our youngsters.
Molde are another team who failed at the final stage to be in Champions League. Former player and manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will no doubt give as much advice to his old club in how to prepare for the Gunners.
While in England many question Ole ‘only winning two Norwegian titles’, it was a big deal in the country. That was the club’s first ever top flight titles, making this easily their most successful decade (4-time Champions).
In 1999 Molde became only the second Norwegian club to play in the Champions League but since, their European record is mostly losing in the qualifying rounds of CL and Europa League it would be shock if they beat us. Put it this way, they just failed to beat the Champions of Hungary over two legs.
Keep an eye on attacking midfielder Magnus Wolf Eikrem. He had such a high reputation he moved to Man United at the age 16. Now 30 he has since re-joined his boyhood club.
As already alluded too, this Fixture loses so much romance with games played behind closed doors. Dundalk’s Stadium has a capacity of 3,100, so it would have been like an old-fashioned FA Cup tie (although I’m sure they would have been offered to play in their national stadium).
Of course they will make huge money from UEFA and TV companies but it’s a shame they couldn’t have a sell out at the AVIVA stadium for example.
To give you an idea of the gulf I am talking about. The Irish Champions were founded in 1902, their first title was in 1933, their debut in Europe was in 1964. Yet in their 117-year history it wasn’t till 2016 that they became the first Irish side to win a group game in Europe. They have advanced this far by beating KI, the Champions of the Faroe Islands.
As recently as 2012 the club were on the brink of insolvency. To be playing ‘The Arsenal’ will be the two biggest nights in their history.
Take romance out of everything, it would take some of our worse results in our history to not advance. I don’t want to sound arrogant but it’s unthinkable for that to happen.
Be very kind, maybe you could have argued that any youngster could have been intimidated by the fans at these grounds but that’s not a factor. That’s the real losers, supporters who don’t normally get the chance to visit the Emirates.
I can see it now. Our manager telling us why Ozil can’t quite make the squad for Dundalk at home!
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