Can Arsenal win the Europa League?

By on March 1, 2018

Arsene wenger

While Arsenal’s home defeat by Östersunds in the second leg of their Europa Cup tie was disappointing, the 3-0 first-leg win meant that the Gunners were never really in danger of going out. However, as well as securing a place in the last-16, this match gave us a glimpse into Arsène Wenger’s changing attitude to the competition.

On the face of it, the team that he picked for this game – just three days before the Carabao Cup final – was an under-strength line-up. However, it wasn’t quite as under-strength as expected, with both Héctor Bellerin and Jack Wilshire making an appearance. This was a signal that Wenger was determined not to allow the Swedish side back into the tie and to put the seal on progression to the next stage.

Their relatively smooth progress to the last 16 has not gone unnoticed. Arsenal fans who want to back their team in the Europa League will find that the Gunners are rated as the third favourite by Stakers to win the competition, behind Atlético Madrid and Borussia Dortmund.

At the start of the season, Europa League participation may have appeared to be a consolation prize for failing to reach the Champions League, but it has taken on extra significance as the campaign has continued, and after defeat in the Carabao Cup final, it represents Arsenal’s only chance of having something to show for their efforts in May.

Failure to crack the top four last season was offset by a record-setting FA Cup win. However, with the top four looking almost out of reach this time around, the Europa League is also looking like the only opportunity for the Gunners to reach the Champions League next year. Wenger’s own position is also looking less secure. Owner Stan Kroenke has tasked Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis with reviewing and overhauling the management structure at the club, and all options are believed to be on the table – including parting ways with Wenger.

Failure to win a trophy or to reach the Champions League would represent a significant decline in the high standards that Wenger has set at Arsenal, and as the team has slipped further behind in the Premier League table, his attitude to the Europa League appears to have shifted, based on the teams that he has selected in the competition.

Back in November, when Arsenal secured the top spot in their group, despite a defeat at Köln, Wenger fielded a considerably weakened team. At the time, although Manchester City had already opened up a 12-point gap over the Gunners, only four points separated Manchester United in second and Arsenal in sixth. However, by the time of the first-leg tie against Östersunds, the Gunners had slipped seven points behind Tottenham in fifth, and Wenger fielded key man Mesut Özil and new signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan to ensure progression.

With the gap from Manchester City at the top of the table a scarcely creditable 27 points, and Tottenham in fourth holding a ten-point lead over Wenger’s side, we can expect Arsenal to be going all out for Europa League victory by putting out their strongest team for every round, starting with what looks like a tough tie against Milan.

Gennaro Gattuso has engineered a mini revival for the Rossonero, who have won five out of six of their Serie A games in 2018 and are pushing hard for a Champions League spot next season. If Arsenal can get past Milan, the going is likely to get even tougher. Atlético Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and Lyon would all represent difficult obstacles, as would RB Leipzig, who eliminated the current Serie A leaders Napoli in the last round.

Complicating the task for Arsenal is the fact that star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is ineligible for this competition, and the summer’s big signing, Alexandre Lacazette, is likely to be out until the end of March, so won’t be able to feature in either leg against Milan.

However, in Arsenal’s favour is the fact that they tend to be at their best when taking on the better sides. Of the current leading contenders for the Europa League title, Atlético are perhaps the most dangerous to the Gunners’ chances, given their generally physical approach, but even against the Spaniards, Arsenal fans will feel confident that their team has a chance. Wenger’s uncanny ability to ensure that the team ends each season with something to show for their efforts should also encourage Gunners supporters, and though they will need some luck along the way, Arsenal have every chance of winning the Europa League.

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