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October 2016
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Its the big debate (well ok a small debate). Take the Europa League seriously or win the Double?

By Tony Attwood

Well ok, not quite a big debate, but it is getting a bit of an airing.

In the coming weeks we will find out whether we are playing in the Champions League, the Europa or neither.  And the question is, should Arsenal play to their strengths in every game and try and win whatever competition we are in, or not?

To get into the Champs League we need to beat Dynamo Zagreb and Olympiakos (the latter by a couple of goals).  And the noises off suggest that is what Arsenal will got for.  And then if we should get through the resultant games will be taken with deadly seriousness, of course.  You don’t muck about with Champions League knock out stages.

But supposing we don’t quite make it.  Supposing Arsenal aren’t quite good enough, or supposing something else happens – after all both the teams we are playing have senior men suspended from football because of enquiries, and in Olympiakos’ case there are enquiries into their entire approach to football in the last seven or so years.   And in the case of Zagreb one of their players was drugged in the match against us.

So if we get second, we go for it in the knock out stages.  But if we finish third, then what.  In what was frankly one of the most bizarre commentaries on this possibility the Independent newspaper said, “With a squad as thin as theirs, a Europa League campaign must be avoided.”

Now what does “With a squad as thin as theirs” actually mean?  Are they speaking of the fact that the Ox and Theo got injured at the same time?  Or that Bellerin has been out for a bit following some amazing performances?   The fact is that like all teams, Arsenal have around 23 over-21 players who are registered for the Champs League, and can also play a wide ranger of under 21 players.

The fact is that Arsenal also have rather a decent record of late…

  • Leicester 2 Arsenal 5
  • Arsenal 3 Man U 0
  • Watford 0 Arsenal 3
  • Arsenal 2 Everton 1
  • Swansea 0 Arsenal 3
  • Arsenal 1 Tottenham 1

So a thin squad?  We are limited by the same regulations as everyone else, but tend to have an excellent range of players at the under 21 level at any time able to take the stage.

But against this there is no doubt that if Man U and Chelsea go through to the next round of the Champs league along with Man C and Arsenal don’t, we have an interesting range of choices, while our rivals (well ok Chelsea isn’t a rival any more but they are a London club so still are rivals in that sense), will have the extra problems of high profile Champs League games.

If we are fourth in the table the issue for Arsenal is settled, we are out.  But if third the only question then remains what to do with the Europa League.

The names of the teams likely to be in the Europa do not make wholly frightening reading.  Apart from the teams finishing third in the Champs League there are clubs such as Molde, FC Sion, Borussia Dortmund, Napoli, Rapid Vienna, Braga, Lazio, Lokomotiv Moscow, Basil, the Tiny Totts, Schalke, Athletic Bilbao… I’ve just listed those currently at the tops of their groups.

Nothing very frightening there, and that leaves the choice: do we think against such opposition we could win the Europa, or do we think it will still be a distraction from winning the Premier League?  If the latter we could rotate the players quite a bit, or even put out our League Cup team and more than likely go out early.

So the point is that getting into the Europa could give us a chance to pick up some more injuries and reduce our League chances, or be a reasonable chance to win another trophy.

Interestingly, the clubs that drop out of the Champs League into the Europa don’t automatically do very well in their new-found competition – only five times this century has a Champions League team won the Europa – one of those being Chelsea.   Also interestingly, not too many people outside the club that won, remember who won the Europa.   This century there have been two Premier League winners.  One was Chelsea as above, and the other… Liverpool.

So could it be that actually winning the thing is not a preface to greater glory.  Certainly not in the case of Liverpool in 2001.  Chelsea on the other hand have done ok since 2013, winning the League and the League Cup last season.

For the last two years the Europa has been won by Sevilla who currently this year are in Man City’s group in the Champions League and are in the same points position as Arsenal, and looking fairly certain for the Europa again.    In their domestic league they are not doing too well either being in 10th.

Team Pl W D L F A GD Pts
1 Barcelona 11 9 0 2 25 12 13 27
2 Real Madrid 11 7 3 1 26 7 19 24
3 Atletico Madrid 11 7 2 2 16 6 10 23
4 Celta Vigo 11 6 3 2 22 18 4 21
5 Villarreal 11 6 2 3 15 11 4 20
6 Eibar 11 5 4 2 16 11 5 19
7 Valencia 11 5 3 3 16 8 8 18
8 Athletic Bilbao 11 5 2 4 18 14 4 17
9 Deportivo La Coruna 11 3 6 2 16 13 3 15
10 Sevilla 11 4 3 4 17 16 1 15

And because of the lopsided nature of Spanish football, rather like German football, being 10th out of 20 isn’t actually that clever as it leaves them a lot closer to relegation than it does to the top two.

So we might argue that competition in the Europa is not going to be that tough, and we could win it.  Or that it will be a distraction from winning the Premier League.

As I said at the start the Indy’s phrase, “With a squad as thin as theirs” was just plain daft, but it would most certainly be terrible if an injury to Alexis or Ozil in a Europa game meant we slipped up in the League.  All things considered, I’d still prefer not to take the risk.  The FA Cup and Premier League will do for me this season.

  • Anniversaries

15 November 1924: First game for Dan Lewis:  Everton 2 Arsenal 3.  In a Fifa commentary on the change of rules to allow goals to be scored direct from corners it is suggested that this game was the first in which this then happened but there are several reasons to believe the history Fifa presents is not 100% accurate.   James Howie Ramsay scored two of Arsenal’s goals

15 November 1950: Leslie Compton won his first full cap for England, having won 12 war time caps.  He was the oldest player ever to win his first full cap – at the age of 38.

31 comments to Its the big debate (well ok a small debate). Take the Europa League seriously or win the Double?

  • Hisham

    It will be sad if we don’t advance into the knockout stages of the Champions League this season. That’s a given.

    Whatever the scenario, I think we should focus on the Premier League. If that’s the only title we win this season, I’ll be more than happy. I will be delirious !! The Europa League, should we be so unfortunate to participate, could well be an experimental opportunity for the fringe players to have a taste of non-Premier League football.

  • BarryL

    My attitude is go for the last two games with the intention of qualifying.
    If we fail, then play a 2nd team in the Europa, and keep the 1st team for the EPL.

    Ospina, Debuchy, Bielik, Chambers, Gibbs, Arteta, Rosicky, Campbell, Ox, Wilshere, Welbeck (assuming last two are fit by time Europa resumes) Subs: Macey, Iwobi, Reine-Adelaide, Flamini, Merts, + rotate a couple of first teamers depending on opposition.

    This would give experience to some of younger players, game time to some senior players + give players like Alexis etc a full week off

  • FunGunner

    I agree with Barry. Completely. 🙂

  • Mandy Dodd

    Ideally , we should do our best to qualify in the ECL, which will probably mean less games…..unless we get to the final.
    I think we WILL beat DZ, unless we get a very strange ref…..and with key players available, sorry, key pacy players, we are more than capable of doing what is required in Greece. They will try and defend, but an early goal for us could cause panic in their ranks.
    Get the impression Wenger does not rate the Europa league.

  • Kenneth Widmerpool

    OT seem to recall that today is Nickys birthday.Happy birthday Nicky!

  • Pedro

    Its obvious that Arsenal have not been fully committed to the champions league this season compared to the prem. Against zagreb we started with ospina, gibbs, debouchy, arteta, Gabriel and ox. The manager probably thought he could get away with fielding a slightly weakened team, which is understandable , but it has sort of backfired.
    Though I do rate players like gibbs, debouchy, ospina etc, it is noticeable that the balance and strength of the team seem to be affected whenever Cech, Bellerin or Monreal are out of the team.
    To continue our challenge for the prem, or should I say to win it, the defensive structure needs to remain consistent. It appears that Wenger is not interested in rotating Cech, Bellerin, kos, mert/Gabriel, Monreal and Coquelin for prem matches. I hope he continues this policy because it is probably the best defensive unit in the league . It feels reassuring whenever we are under pressure to know that there is no weak link and us supporters can trust the defence.

  • Smurp

    Wenger won’t be able to help himself in the europa. Like the league cup he will play a mix of youth and first teamers.

    We will get injuries, spiral down to 5th and be stuck in Europa purgatory with spurs and Liverpool forever.

    He should play the tea ladies in that shambles of a tournament. But he won’t.

  • Mick

    Rest assured that if we were to finish up in the Europa and Wenger decided to field a weaker team to give the 2nd stringers some game time and we were beaten he would be crucified for rotating. If he fielded a full strength eleven and won the Europa game but lost the subsequent league game he would be crucified for not rotating. Whatever course he takes will be wrong as far as the media and AAA are concerned depending on the result. Whatever happens they will find a stick to beat him with.

  • SamuelAkinsolaAdebosin

    I have no any iota of doubt in my mind that Arsenal will not qualify for the Ucl knockout stages this season. They will surely beat Dinamo Zagreb at the Emirates Stadium after they’ve beaten WBA at the Hawthorns to keep their Ucl & BPL titles winning hopes very much alive and realizable at the end of their campaigns for these 2 big competitions. Arsenal are titles winning club, and they will be titles winners at the end of this season. Arsenal are champions League playing club, and not a Europa League playing club. Arsenal are seniors and juniors. Arsenal are special and not ordinary. Arsenal are elites club and not a mediocares club. Happy Sunday to us IJCN. Amen.

  • SamuelAkinsolaAdebosin

    I have no any iota of doubt in my mind that Arsenal will not qualify for the Ucl knockout stages this season. They will surely beat Dinamo Zagreb at the Emirates Stadium after they’ve beaten WBA at the Hawthorns to keep their Ucl & BPL titles winning hopes very much alive and realizable at the end of their campaigns for these 2 big competitions. Arsenal are titles winning club, and they will be titles winners at the end of this season. Arsenal are champions League playing club, and not a Europa League playing club. Arsenal are seniors and not juniors. Arsenal are special and not ordinary. Arsenal are elites club and not a mediocares club. Happy Sunday to us IJCN. Amen.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    A double for me , thanks !

  • Brickfields Gunners

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY NICKY ! A double for you too , I’m sure !

  • Pat

    Wise words, Mick.

  • nicky

    Many thanks to those who remembered this old codger’s 92nd birthday.
    You all appear to have better memories than me.
    I well recall the 1920’s and 30’s but not what I had for lunch yesterday.
    What keeps me going? The chat (and laughter) which permeates the pages of Untold. 😉

  • Jeremy

    The strangest thing I’ve found about following arsenal the last few years are the conversations about the competitions we don’t want to win or even be part of.
    I can understand people not being too upset about going out of the league cup earlier but I don’t the people who were hoping before hand that we’d lose or were actually happy when we got knocked out. Three years ago I think a lot of those people including myself would have been quite happy to win that competition.
    Similarly I don’t get the distain for the Europa League. If we end up in it then we are obviously not too big a club to be in it as we will have proven to be not good enough for the Champions League. As far as I know we’ve never won the champions league yet we are somehow too good for the Europa league. Isn’t it a competition we could with a bit of luck actually win? Why would we not want to win a competition where we would be one of the favourites?
    As far as I know we still speak warmly of that final against parma. Alan Smith’s lovely goal and a defensive masterclass to achieve the win. I’d love another chance for a repeat if we end up qualifying for it.
    I know when people talk about the Europa league it’s usually to mention the small teams that hardly any of us know much about but I prefer to think about it as an opportunity to beat a team like Milan, Napoli, or even Spurs in the final. Go for the win.

  • omgarsenal

    Happy birthday Nicky….our oldest Gooner on UA and present at the founding of Dial Square back in the good old days, I suspect!

  • Mick

    Happy birthday Nicky, have a great day.
    Your 92 beats my mere 72 by a distance!

  • WalterBroeckx

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY NICKY!!! I look forward to reading your post every day! I hope someone gave you some Belgian chocolats today? 🙂

  • nicky

    I’m not THAT old, Omg, but my Gran (who cleans at the Emirates) claimed to have once had a chat with Herbert Chapman. Actually, she said “Morning” and he replied “Is it?”

  • nicky

    @ Walter,
    On the contrary, Walter, I prefer reading YOUR post on Untold every day.
    My respects to the delightful Madame and trust she is well. 😉

  • nicky

    It’s those 20 years, Mick, that really count.
    1.Girls help you to cross the road even though you don’t want to go.
    2. You can chat them up and no-one takes offence.
    3.You can nap during the day and no-one
    4.You develop dullness of hearing which becomes a valuable aid if you don’t want to do something.
    5. If there’s a war, you won’t be called up for service.

    Rest assured, Mick, the 20 years you still have in order to catch me up can be the best of your life. 😉

  • Mick

    I shall look forward to the next 20 years with increased enthusiasm then, during which time I will see many more trophies find their way into the Arsenal trophy cabinet.

  • Gord

    HB Nicky!

    The first game of any Europa League game would be Feb 18, after the hated winter transfer window closes, and after any adjustment in loans is likely to have taken place.

    Many people are concerned about getting sufficient competition for the older youths, and first team players recovering from injury. The number of injured players is not controllable, and to a degree neither is the rehabilitation time. The number of youths around the team for after the new year, is somewhat controllable.

    If Arsenal ends up in Europa league, we can win it. Without sending all the best players.

    The medja think some of the first team want to move. If those people exist, start with them. Look at the people on loan. Recall whoever makes sense to play in these Europa games. If you are still short players, maybe look at transfers in the winter window. And that still leaves room for first team players coming off injuries to play there.

    All ignoring the fact that there are rosters registered, and various rules about them, which could make this moot.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    The last time Arsenal ‘dropped’ into the then UEFA Cup in 2000 , we lost to Galatasaray on penalties , and if my memory serves me , we never did it again.

  • nicky

    Thanks Gord 😉

  • Shakabula Gooner

    Grandpa Nicky,
    Happy birthday!
    My father died before he could turn 82 in 2011.
    That adds respect to our relationship, even on an impersonal Internet site.
    May you thoroughly enjoy the pleasures Arsenal give you in your years to come, one day at a time.

  • nicky

    Great Grandpa but to only one up to now.
    Yep, I’ve never regretted my allegiance to Arsenal FC, set in stone over 80 years ago.
    Much appreciate your sentiments. 😉

  • nicky

    @Kenneth Widmerpool.
    First out of the blocks yesterday, as usual.
    Much appreciate your good wishes and hope to read more comments from you in the coming year. 😉

  • nicky

    @Brickfields G.,
    Kindly continue with the humour as well as the erudite comment on Untold. Both keep we crumblies alive between birthdays! 😉

  • soglorious

    Happy Birthday Nicky!!! Would you mind another 92 years? Cheers Sir! .

  • Kenneth Widmerpool

    Nicky, youre most welcome, and likewise.Ever thought about writing some articles for Tony’s history section,youre the only one with a long perspective of AFC? UA wouldn’t be the same without you!