All Guns Blazing: Whatever way you look at it, Europa League won’t help Arsenal
- Credit: PA WIRE
In our weekly Arsenal fan column, Alex Bellotti looks at the prospect of Europa League football should the Gunners fall short in tonight’s game.
So once again it comes to this. In the wake of Arsenal’s home defeat to Olympiacos back in September, I predicted to friends that we would inevitably end up having to win by three goals in Greece – as it happens, I was only a pessimistic shade off by one goal.
This prediction, of course, involved scoring two and heartbreakingly hitting the bar in the 89th minute. Glorious defeat is ingrained in Arsenal’s recent history – just look at the Champions League knockouts to Barcelona in 2010 and 2011, Milan in 2012 and Munich in 2013 – but the difference this time is that we are ahead of schedule.
Anything less than a win by two goals (or by scoring three or more) would mark the first time we’ve failed to progress past the group stages since 2002/2003. Should we fail to win by such margins in a stadium where we have notoriously suffered before, the Europa League awaits. And it surprises me how many fans would prefer this scenario.
I vaguely get the logic: forget about Europe and we can focus on the league. Yet looking back at the last couple of seasons, the added number of games we’ve had in the Champions League has amounted to a grand total of two – the minimum number we’d have to play in the Europa League anyway.
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Could we just send the reserves? Perhaps, but that’s effectively what we did against Sheffield Wednesday in the League Cup. The result was a humiliating 3-0 pasting (a score which would only feel more sour on a continental stage), but more damagingly, injuries to those reserves left us so short of squad depth that it has conversely affected us in the league. Aside from playing fewer games, injuries and fatigue are a risk no matter what the opposition.
The only remaining argument is that we could boost our confidence in Europe by winning the Europa League, but I’m not sure that Mesut Ozil or Alexis Sanchez would gain much from winning a trophy only meant for those too rubbish to compete for the real thing. No, the sad truth is that however we look at it, the competition would be what it is to everyone else: a pointless diversion best avoided at all costs.
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Still, there is hope! An unlikely victory by two goals provided the most memorable match in this club’s history back in ’89, after all. Should we do the same again, you can only imagine what happens next: going out to Barcelona in the last 16, needing one goal and hitting the crossbar.
Follow Alex on Twitter @alexbellotti