Of course, Arsenal’s focus this season is on Premier League success and attaining the first top-four finish in four years so that a return to the Champions League for the first time in that long will await the club.
However, will the Gunners also secure European glory by lifting the Europa League trophy? If they’re successful, it would mark the first European title for the club since the European Cup Winners’ Cup was lifted by the team on May 4, 1994, following a 1-0 win over Parma in that year’s final.
It should also be noted that the Europa League provides another pathway to the 2020-21 Champions League. The winners will not only be placed in that competition but also receive a spot in Pot 1 for the draw and, presumably, an easier road to advancing to the knockout phase.
In order to be lifting the Europa League trophy on May 27 in Gdansk, Poland, the Gunners need to initially place in the top two of a group that also includes Germany’s Eintracht Frankfurt, Belgium’s Standard Liege and Portugal’s Vitoria de Guimaraes. Although few Arsenal FC supporters would count any games as easy wins, this group is one in which the Gunners should not have too much trouble qualifying from as Eintracht Frankfurt were seventh in the Bundesliga a year ago while Vitoria de Guimaraes placed fifth in the Primeira Liga and Standard Liege were third in the Belgian First Division.
However, the real challenges will come during the knockout phase, especially since that’s when the third-placed sides in the eight Champions League groups move over to this competition. Balancing all of those Europa League matches with an English Premier League campaign that will likely be filled with must-win matches then will make it tough to succeed in this competition, and spending all of the effort to make a deep European run but falling short of lifting the trophy causes many sides to wonder if it all was worth it, especially if it causes sacrifices to the league campaign that, perhaps, should not have been made.
Unfortunately, Arsenal FC know those struggles too well after having experienced that exact situation themselves a year ago, playing nine European matches from February-May and making long trips to Belarus, France, Italy, Spain and Azerbaijan but falling just short of enjoying all of the spoils. And many do wonder if it was worth it as Arsenal finished fifth in the English Premier League, just two points shy of third.
Of course, the likelihood of Europa League success will depend on how the club’s campaigns are shaping up by that point in the season. If Arsenal surprises and are making a run towards their first Premier League title in 16 years, the Europa League matches would take a back seat. However, if Arsenal are languishing closer to the middle of the table than the top, that would change things completely.
But, even if the Gunners are firing on all cylinders, it cannot be ignored that Manchester United are also in the Europa League and likely have similar ambitions. Can Arsenal supporters handle losing another Europa League final?