The Europa League is now an important trophy for Arsenal
After winning the FA Cup and beating some of the biggest clubs in England in the process, the Arsenal fans could be forgiven for believing that this season would be one of significant improvement and competing at a higher level in the Premier League, alas, that has not been the case.
Another by-product of winning the FA Cup and the high hopes built prior to the start of the season was that the Europa League was dismissed by a good number of the fans, in fact, when the group stage games where being played it would not have been a surprise if a few of those fans used their time checking out virtual casinos in the UK as opposed to actually watching the games.
Well, things have changed and you can take it to the bank that the majority of those dismissive fans will now be looking at the Europa League as a means to gaining both success and entry into next seasons Champions League.
Considering the form that the Gunners are in right now it is unlikely that they will achieve a top-four finish and it is more likely that they will be desperate for European football instead of finishing among the elite in the division come the end of the season.
The good news is that the next stages of the Europa League are in February, which is after the winter transfer window shuts.
That means that Arsenal has an opportunity to strengthen the squad and possibly offload any poor influences within the club that are undermining the team’s morale.
The bad news is that they have drawn Benfica and it is hard to see how they could have possibly drawn a tougher opponent.
Benfica is not Dundalk or Molde, they will approach the game with the belief that they can qualify for the next stage, they have no reason at all to be frightened of a two-legged affair against this Arsenal side, not unless something dramatic happens between now and then.
The Europa League really is the poor little relation in comparison to the Champions League but it is all that Arsenal have right now if they have any hope of making it into Europe’s premier tournament and if stagnation happens in the Premier League then manager Mikel Arteta will have some massive decisions to make.
Does he focus on the Europa League over the Premier League and which players does he field in the respective competitions, especially once he has secured safety in the domestic league?