This year the Europa League could be an enjoyable competition to be in.
Whilst we have been conditioned by the media to look at the Champions League with envious eyes, it is a competition which gave Arsenal fans very little joy in the 2 decades we played in it – there really is no joy being smashed 7-2.
2006 and the odd big away win aside, it become a competition that Arsenal fans became jaded of being in during the later years.
Whilst the Europa League might be the second competition, and frustratingly playing on a Thursday means more Sunday games, it is also a competition which has been enjoyable than the Champions League.
Arsenal have been awful in the Champions League, following the same blue print almost every season.
Cruise through the group stages before being knocked out by Barcelona, AC Milan or Bayern Munich. It was a competition we had little chance of winning. The Europa League, meanwhile, is a much more realistic chance of a trophy.
In the 2 years we have played in it, we have been semi-finalists and then finalists. The next logical step is that we go on to win it. A European trophy. Something which Arsenal have very few of. Something which Arsenal would unlikely achieve if playing Champions League football.
As the quality is also lower; it has provided a fantastic opportunity to watch our kids play.
The Champions League – the group stages especially – became boring. At least with the Europa League, you know that by turning up tonight against Standard Liege, you are going to see a load of youngsters play.
Against Eintracht Frankfurt we saw starts given to Emile Smith Rowe (who is out tonight), Joe Willock and Bukayo Saka. Tonight against Liege I expect Gabrielle Martinelli and Reiss Nelson to also be in the start XI – although Saka might be given a rest having played 90 minutes against Man U and likely to start on Sunday against Bournemouth.
So we will see a whole host of academy products in the starting XI as well as Hector Bellerin, Kieran Tierney and Rob Holding continuing their rehabilitation. It will be a young, exciting team. Something that would not happen in the Champions League.
The Europa League has also bought up some fantastic trips.
Whilst in the Champions League, it felt like we were continually being drawn against the same times. Olympiakos, Marseille in the group stages. Barcelona and Bayern Munich in the knock outs.
The Europa League has seen us visit some new places in Central Europe and some fair flung places in Eastern Europe.
Liege away before Christmas will be a decent trip, as will Vitoria in a few weeks. Cologne is one trip that will be talked about for years. And those who made the long trips to Eastern Europe and beyond bonded over cheap beer and vodka.
I do miss the Champions League, mainly because I miss playing on Saturday. But I do not miss the boredom and predictability of the competition.
Lets turn up tonight. Embrace the Europa League, and back the kids.
Expected line up:
Belelrin Mustafi Holding Tierney
Nelson Ozil Ceballos