Europa League: Saviour or Busted Flush

So, the Europa League group stage passes the halfway point this week and three games in, the question is “do you miss the Champions League?”

The answer is no. But then you knew that was coming. Regular readers know I dislike the group stage format and seeding. Platini’s sop to smaller nations to make them feel more included in the competition was revealed early on. It ensured the ‘big boys’, the moneymakers, always reached the knockout stage, keeping the cow firmly fed in cash.

There’s been something refreshing about the lesser of the two European competitions and yes, that has to do with us winning. We were quite good in the group stage in the big boys competition but at times, dishevelled.

Bayern two years ago is the obvious answer but Zagreb is more comparable to now. The weakened side fielded then collapsed; now, we are three points away from qualifying for the next phase. This week could even see us guaranteed top spot in the group with two games remaining.

It’s going swimmingly in terms of results. A bit iffy in the first half against Köln and numbing against Red Star but both games were won. You can’t ask more from a makeshift team.

If we are guaranteed top spot in the group, does that afford Arsène more opportunities to rotate his side? Give some untested youngsters a step up; maybe Osei-Tutu on the right? The options are there if results go to plan.

That is a big ‘if’. We know from painful experience what happens to ‘ifs’ in European competition; they usually end up facing Bayern Munich or Barcelona in the Round of Sixteen. This season, we will face a new nemesis, a team regarded as lesser or beatable; a peer.

Turning Me Around

Whether you like it or not, the Europa League is our level. If we’re going to talk competitive football, then we are a Europa League team. We’re 11/2 to win the tournament; Milan are second favourites at 9/2. William Hill bookies think it’s ours to throw away.

In the knockout phase of the Champions League, we’re an Andorra, San Marino or Gibraltar; beaten and battered at every turn, slow to learn the lessons and repeating the same mistakes time and again. It will get better eventually but not for this generation of players.

Do we accept this is our level for the remainder of Arsène’s tenure? Aim for the Champions League places every season, knowing we can occasionally make the top four but always the top six (which ought to get us into the Europa League)? Some would argue we should reach for the stars, try to win the Premier League and Champions League.

The trouble is, we know we’re not going to do it. Leicester’s title win was the wake-up call the elite needed. Manchester United won the Europa League last season, using it as a platform, a brace for soccer success. We must do the same.

We then as a club have to ask the question of ourselves: is it better to be in the Champions League and lose in the first knockout phase or be in the Europa League and compete for trophy. It’s a big assumption because we haven’t done so yet and we may fall flat on our faces when the Champions League teams drop into the competition.

However, I do believe we can compete with any of the teams likely to finish third in their group.

Two decades in the Champions League and years of derision over Spursday Night Football damaged the Europa League in our fans eyes. We got spoilt and now like petulant children, we’re trash-talking the competition.

It’s a British thing, like the Super Cup. Other European countries value the two trophies, we look down on them. Maybe it’s just an Arsenal thing.

Holding Me Down

Financially, we’re better off in the Champions League but that money is it was recently claimed, being dwarfed by the broadcasting revenues. It has less impact now than it did a decade ago when the Emirates was first opened. It can’t be ignored, particularly for a club which relies on a self-sufficient model.

Combine that and a majority shareholder who has no intention of investing in the club, and this is our lot. Stan’s mediocrity lands.

However, this presumes Arsène remains in charge. The lethargy in Europe is a striking feature of his CV; always the bridesmaid, etc., as far as that is concerned. It’s been raked over in the past but never satisfactorily explained; is it simply a quirk of fate he will suffer as a manager?

This season offers him as good an opportunity as any to rectify that problem.

’til Tomorrow

26 thoughts on “Europa League: Saviour or Busted Flush

  1. Good morning folks.

    Yogi you’re question concerning missing the Champions League made me realise that what I used to enjoy was watching teams from other countries. A night at Highbury to see Ajax perhaps? Nowadays I can watch teams from all over Europe and beyond at the touch of a button on the TV remote. Frankly with so much football available I’m bored stiff with it. So, the answer is an apathetic no.

  2. Of the 32 teams in this seasons Champions League I would argue that there are 8, possibly 9 teams far superior to AFC.

  3. Ok, then is there a logic that we aim for relegation to the Championship, so that we can be in contention for a proper title if we win it ?

    I think we (AFC) fans as a group were spoilt rotten with the annual qualification for the Chumps league and that other teams fans would have given much for just a taste of what we had…

  4. Great post and exactly the way I see our participation in the UEFA Cup, a bit of a throw back to how it used to feel in the Fairs Cup and Cup Winners Cup rather than the hopelessness of the Champions League.

    Beat Red Star, hopefully, but this is Arsenal, and then give our youngsters a good go in the last 2 matches with 3 or 4 senior players to add a bit of experience.

  5. DALM,

    I doubt that anyone would ‘enjoy’ being spanked by Barca or Bayern on a regular basis. Once could be an accident but almost every year??

  6. Morning All and top post Yogi.

    Europa is our current level and because of that we are where we are. Lets go and win the competition who cares the level. It was great being in the CL and while I do miss seeing the players face the best of the best, it also wasn’t enjoyable watching them get destroyed against the likes of Bayern and Barca.

  7. Should we win, I think if we are top of the group then playing some of the kids that are closer to the first team would be good. Players like DaSilva, maybe Maitland-Niles and Nelson in their proper positions. I would also start Giroud because he needs to prove it.

  8. I cant miss Championsleague at all as long as Wenger is the coach. He failed catastrophically since 2006 to compete with the big boys. its stupidity to do the same thing again and again expecting a different result. We are tired of being embarrassed by the big boys under wenger. Europa league is realistically our level and on the face of it we are competing ably.

  9. Well, I seem to be on my own on this, but I have always looked forward to watching the Arsenal playing in any competition, and I am always full of hope before hand — no, really, that word is ‘hope’ – not the one starting with ‘bull ‘ 🙂

    On the other hand I suffer for my expectations when the lads get stuffed. But ain’t that the way?

    Neither do I get bored with watching the Arsenal — I sometimes get mad — I sometimes wish they would not play across the pitch so much, or pass the ball all the way back to the ‘keeper — and I have been known to be totally brassed off when we do not buy the quality of player that would enable us to compete at the level of the other bar-stewards who have no compunction in sweeping up every top player they can get their hands on.

    Frankly, I am sometimes secretly surprised that we can punch above our weight, and are still mentioned, albeit forlornly, in the same breath as the Mancs and the Chav lot and occasionally give them a bloody nose. Of course, the ‘smaller’ clubs tend to save something special when we play them, and give us a smack on the nose just to redress the balance.

    Football games are no longer decided simply on the reputation or skill of the manager, or the team, it is mainly down to how much money is spent by Mourinho other clubs who want to buy personal and team success.

    I am not big on capitalism, and all that entails, so would I want the Arsenal to go out and spend humongous sums of money buying top quality players and winning the Premier League and the CL? You bet I would.
    Would I feel comfortable about it? No – I would not — so there’s a dichotomy here — go against my principles and win, or just do the football thing and keep hoping we win, and feel comfortable we are not all sucking up to Mammon.

    In that regard, if I am on my own — so be it. 😀

  10. I’m sorry but if you can breeze through the Europa L group stages, which is what Arsenal seem to be doing with a bunch of second string and youth players , then how is this really ” more our level”?

    The main reason for Arsenal failings in the CL hasn’t been for the lack of quality but rather proper coaching and preparation.

    We didn’t lose to Monaco because they were more talented, just like we didn’t lose the league to Leicester for the same reasons.
    Sure we can call those a one of but that would be missing the larger picture, which is , that , Arsenal have problems with team structure, balance and proper coaching.

    We are just as likely to exit Europa League in the last sixteenth to a club with half of Arsenal’s market value and wages, as we did the in the in previous years CL, no matter the opponent .

  11. Ian,

    And that puts us firmly in the last 16, but probably no further. Which is where we have ended up pretty much every season since our appearance in the final. It suggests that Wenger is not developing the team and that the Emirates Stadium has not provided a base for us to compete with the big boys.

  12. HenryB,

    Hi Henry,

    I don’t see that we have ever really been punching above our weight and certainly not in the past few years. With a wage bill in the top 4 in the Premier League and in the top 9 (I think) in Europe we should be expecting to get out of the group phase in the CL. The qualification rules for the CL are a nonsense though and having 4 clubs from one league in the group phase makes a mockery of the competition’s title. With 1 or may 2 teams (FA Cup winners) in the competition we might even see more of a fight from our club domestically. I would have thought that some of the other clubs would take the FA Cup much more seriously as well.

  13. I can’t decide if the comments about TV revenue making up a lot of the difference between CL and EL qualification were a smoke screen, or not. Leicester received around £70m from their achievements in Europe, whilst United pocketed around £40m. Although United apparently received a £22m bonus from their sponsorship deal with Adidas as well. I know TV appearance monies are about to rocket again as the divi-up of the foreign TV viewing income is being renegotiated with the tops teams getting the biggest slice again.

  14. Tom,

    Leicester also demonstrated that to some extent by getting into the quarter finals of the CL, even though they were not seeded.

  15. HenryB,

    Hi Henry,

    Your not alone, I enjoy watching Arsenal in any and all competition. Guess we stand on that island together my friend. 😀

  16. Hiya Wavey,

    What I meant — in passing really — was that we have been capable of beating ManCity, or Chelsea or Manure recently, despite even Arsenal fans writing us off beforehand.
    That includes the FA cup games won against City and Chelsea, and draws against both in the Premier League, and so on.
    Earth shattering? Of course not – but someone like me does not want external money souring football, and that would include Arsenal if we bought ourselves a title — much tho I want to win a ‘big’ competition — get thee behind me satan!! 🙂

    I understand there is a different view from yourself and many others — and who am I to say you are all wrong?? Well, not me. 🙂

    I did say tho’ that I am resigned to being a one-man band on this. Nothing new there.

  17. C:
    HenryB,

    Hi Henry,

    Your not alone, I enjoy watching Arsenal in any and all competition. Guess we stand on that island together my friend. 😀

    I had not read your comment before submitting my last one, C, and I am not surprised with your comment — in fact, I am sure there are many others on here, including Wavey who found a stream on Saturday when I could not, who also cannot stay away from the Gunners — it’s an addiction.:D

  18. C:
    So if Arsene has hinted at Debuchy being back in thr plans as a CB, why again did we sell Gabriel?

    Now that is ludicrous, C — it is something that defies understanding for a thick fan like me!!

  19. Sadly, I have visitors, and have to depart. (it is not sad I have visitors 🙂 ) but that I have to go.

    [This has nothing to do with someone looking over my shoulder!!] 🤡

    Sayonara my friends.

  20. I personally do miss the CL. I’d rather watch our best 11 play team I’ve heard of before than Walcott and co come up against one I can hardly pronounce let alone tell you which country they are from without a quick check on Google (other search engines are available).

    However it does put much less pressure and strain on the squad. Our best 11 are getting a weeks rest in between PL matches at the moment which can only be a good thing given our injury record. And it’s allowing players like Wilshere decent game time.

    Will be interesting to see what team Wenger fields if we make it to the latter stages off the competition given it offers a route to next years CL. I guess a lot will depend on our league position!

  21. HenryB,

    You’re not wrong, I try to track down every game. I prefer the US coverage of the Prem games, even when they are televised in the UK as well. That’s usually down to the commentators though. I like listening to Dixon commentate on Arsenal, as he is a real Gooner.

    I do also enjoy watching football in general though and am particularly enjoying watching Roma doing a job on Chelsea tonight.

    2-0 at half time.

  22. HenryB,

    I don’t think it has to be about external money though. We have spent a fair amount in recent years, but don’t seem have spent that well in some areas. I am wondering what happens next summer though. The big boys have already shown that they are going to spend big to be involved in the Champions League and I don’t expect that to slow down next summer. When Alexis and Ozil leave next summer we will be starting off on the back foot in terms of both finances and players.

  23. HenryB,

    Yup, makes no sense if he plans to use Debuchy as a CB then why try to sell Chambers all summer and then actually sell Gabriel. Yup, the strange decisions just never stop.

    Yup there are quite a few who would not openly admit it given their stances on everything Arsenal and Arsene….I mean Orsey and Wavey always seem to find a stream 😂

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