So tomorrow our Europa League journey begins at home against Cologne (or Koln, or Koeln, or whatever it is called).
I for one am a little bit excited about playing in the Europa League this season, for a few reasons:
- It is a competition Arsenal can win
- New trips to new places
- Youngsters will get a chance
The first and third contradict eachother, as Arsenal have the best chance of winning it by putting out their strongest XI, whilst it also makes sense, especially in the group stages, to put out a complete second XI. With Chelsea coming up on Sunday, I expect no one to play tomorrow who will play on Sunday.
I have written countless times before about my boredom with the Champions League. Arsenal were only in it to make up the numbers, and it always felt like a matter of time until we got spanked. And it happened every season. The Europa League is a new journey.
Whilst it might be a lesser competition, it is a trophy regardless.
I looked on at Manchester United with a tint of jealousy as they cruised past Ajax to lift the trophy in Stockholm. Yes, I mocked as they lifted up 3 fingers as Jose Mourinho celebrated winning the worst treble ever – Community Shield, League Cup, Europa League – but the fact remained that they had secured 2 trophies (albeit minor) and won the glorified friendly that is the Community Shield.
At the weekend, I mentioned to a pal that I would rather finished 10th in the Premier League and win the Europa League, than finish 4th in the league and end the season trophyless.
I am certainly not a trophy snob, and were Arsenal to win the Europa League, it would be a 4th trophy in 5 years. Not a bad return for a club in crisis.
The chances of winning the Europa League could depend on what team we put out. I expect us to follow the Manchester United blueprint and play the 2nd string in the group stages, before slowly filtering in senior players as the competition go’s on.
As last season went on, and Manchester United’s title challenge, and then top 4 challenge, slipped away, their priorities changed. Rather than focusing on making the top 4, they realised winning the Europa League got them a trophy and a place in the Champions League.
It will be good to see some youngsters get a run out tomorrow. Some young boys we can really get behind.
Alongside the youngster, there will still be some senior pros. I expect David Ospina to start in goal. A defence with Per Mertsacker in the middle, Rob Holding and Calum Chambers either side. Both young Englishman can learn a lot from the German.
It will be interesting to see who we play at wing back. I can see Wenger giving a run out to Mathieu Debuchy on the right. With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain gone, Debuchy is back up for Hector Bellerin in the Premier League. Although we might also see Maitland-Niles start there. In-fact, I think that is how he will go.
Actually, scrap that, it will be Maitland-Niles on the left, and Debuchy on the right.
With Francis Coquelin out injured, I would expect to see Jack Wilshere come into the middle of the park alongside Mohamed Elneny. An experienced middle of the park which should allow us to control most games.
Alex Iwobi will be giving a key role playing behind the strikers. It is easy to forget that he is still just 21. He is a young talent and it will be good to see him get a good run in the team in both the Europa League and League Cup this season.
Next to him is a conundrum. Will Wenger go for Theo Walcott? Or will he give a chance to Jeff Reine-Adélaïde or Reiss Nelson? Personally I would prefer the later. We all know what Walcott can and can not do, and whilst it would be tempting to give him game time to keep him sharp, it would be more beneficial in the long term to either give Jeff or Nelson a run out.
Add in Olivier Giroud up top – or Theo Walcott if we go for Jeff or Nelson – and we have an exciting mix of young talent and established players.
Hopefully throughout the campaign, we can continue watching the likes of Chambers, Holding, Maitland-Niles, Jeff and Nelson grow as players. And even see the comeback kid Jack Wilshere force his way into first team reckoning.
I have already booked up the away game against Cologne. Belgrade is tempting. Talk of a 9 hour night train? And after Christmas, we could have some very interesting trips.
Last season, in the knock-outs, Manchester United had trips to Saint-Étienne, Rostov, Anderlecht and Celta Vigo, before finishing up in Stocklholm.
It is almost tempting fate to book the Eurostar to Lyon now!