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Jose Mourinho’s gamble of prioritising winning the Europa League over finishing inside the Premier League’s top four was much derided, yet it proved to be a calculated one as Manchester United lifted the trophy in Stockholm on Wednesday.
Mourinho’s appetite for big matches showed against Ajax as he constructed a gameplan which totally negated Peter Bosz’s outstanding pressing game high up the pitch.
Marouane Fellaini was crucial in preventing the play becoming bogged down in United’s own half and enjoyed probably his best night in a Manchester United shirt.
After such a difficult week for the city as a whole, the continental triumph brought some semblance of a smile back to the faces of local people and rather less importantly it catapulted Manchester United back into the Champions League group phase.
Europa League debut
Arsenal failed to secure Champions League qualification for the first time in Arsene Wenger’s 21 year tenure at the club and now face a season in the Europa League in 2017/18.
For many supporters the tournament will seem a distraction from domestic duties however with the reward of Champions League qualification, Manchester United and Mourinho have proven it to be an almighty lifeline if you can indeed win it.
Only Chelsea had won the tournament since it was revamped as the Europa League in 2009 with United following suit on Wednesday.
The attitude towards the competition from English clubs has generally been terrible with only Fulham, Liverpool and the Blues having made a real go of it.
United an example for Arsenal to follow
Mourinho’s United however have shown the value of winning it.
Their 2-0 victory over the Dutch side propelled them from having a bad season where they finished 6th condemned to another season embedded in the Thursday-Sunday schedule that managers seem to despise, to having an excellent season where they lifted three trophies in total and qualified directly into the group stage of the most prestigious club competition in the world.
Arsenal are now under pressure to repeat such a feat with the battle for a top four spot only likely to be even more intense next season.
None of the traditional big clubs are in transition anymore, Tottenham are at the height of their project, Chelsea are only going to get better, Liverpool will add more players that fit Klopp’s system whilst the two Manchester clubs could both be set to smash their own respective transfer window records with a raft of arrivals.
Arsene Wenger on the other hand will likely continue to behave the very same way in the transfer market.
His claims that the current crop of Arsenal first-teamers are more than good enough to win the title next season is worrying when you consider how far off the pace they have been since December.
Irrespective of all the talk about wholesale change behind the scenes at the Emirates Stadium it is almost impossible to see the Gunners spending over £100 million this summer to turn themselves into challengers.
It could well be the case that as the season progresses they will see the Europa League as their best avenue back into the Champions League, just as United did, and they have to be ready to win it.
It is a 15 game run from the group phase right through to the showpiece final but in theory Arsenal may have the strongest squad in the tournament.
Arsenal must take the Europa League seriously
The Gunners haven’t won a European trophy since 1994 and have only lifted two FA Cups in the 13 years since 2004. With the Europa League providing a serious opportunity for success, why would you risk throwing it away?
Arsenal have to take the competition seriously even if they don’t want to be involved in it, Alexis Sanchez may well leave the club before the tournament starts but unless Wenger guides the club back into the Champions League at the first opportunity, transfer markets are only going to become more difficult to negotiate.
Winning a trophy also builds a winning mentality within a group of players, it increases their collective resolve.
Again just look at Manchester United under Louis van Gaal and David Moyes. They were bereft of direction and poise yet the FA Cup victory in the Dutchman’s last game in charge energised the team.
A winning mentality must be reinforced — a Europa League triumph could be the catalyst
Mourinho has since arrived and instructed that a wall within the Carrington training facility is decorated with images of the current squad’s triumphs and they have gone on to lift two competitive trophies again this past season.
Arsenal’s first-team need to reinforce a winning mentality within their dressing room and they will be favourites for the Europa League, they must put everything into winning it as it will undoubtedly help them in the long-run.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4
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