Arsenal Should Follow Manchester United's Lead, Embrace Europa League
It's a phrase no Arsenal fan wants to hear, but it's one that is the harsh truth: It's time to embrace the Europa League.
Arsenal's current standing is a flimsy one. It butchered the transfer window, it's been lapped by its upper-echelon Premier League foes, it's the third-best team in London and it has a never-ending Arsene Wenger issue. Regardless of whether you think Wenger is the right man to lead the Gunners, he's under contract for the rest of this season and next season, and the club has shown no inclination that it'll usher him out in an unceremonious way.
So instead of scheming for fantasy solutions (Wenger out! Sign everyone!), take stock of the current situation. Like Manchester United last season, Arsenal has an opportunity that most clubs don't have: A second way into the Champions League.
If you look at the Premier League landscape, Arsenal isn't a top-four team. Alexandre Lacazette was a great signing, and the early returns show he'll have no problem settling into life in England. But there are serious roster issues that still haven't been addressed in full, the inevitable injury crisis will surely follow and the Alexis Sanchez saga will continue to drag out before the club ultimately has to either sell for a fraction of his summer value or loses him for nothing come July.
All of that said, the glass-half-full approach reveals a way back to the top–or at the very least the heights Arsenal most recently had. Manchester United swallowed its pride and saw opportunity where others saw an inconvenience, schedule congestion and a place to rotate the squad. There's little prestige in winning Europa League when you're a club that wants to win Premier League titles and reach the Champions League perennially, but when it's your most realistic way back into that top tier, it's time to go for it. The field is conquerable. AC Milan, Everton and Lazio likely pose the biggest challenges, but they're certainly not beyond what Arsenal is capable of beating.
It doesn't need to be explained why clubs in the Champions League are more attractive destinations for potential transfer targets, either. Want to overpay for Thomas Lemar? At least he'll take you seriously if you're playing on the brightest stage. Want to actually attract Kylian Mbappe and not be a "realistic option, but sorry I went elsewhere" kind of club? Then maximize the opportunities at hand and don't feel like playing on Thursday nights is beneath you. Sure, Jose Mourinho will unquestionably have a quip to make, something about how Wenger could only win something after he did, but pay no mind to the Special One and his mind games.
Making things more attractive for Arsenal is the financial component. Nobody loves to turn a profit quite like the Gunners, and the windfall from getting back into the Champions League should be reason enough for Wenger, Stan Kroenke and everyone else pulling the strings at the club to accept reality and go full steam ahead. If it missed out on a payday from selling Alexis at his highest remaining value, it can at least improve the bottom line by returning to Europe's premier stage.
It all starts with taking on Koln, BATE Borisov and Red Star Belgrade on Thursdays in the fall. It's not the competition Arsenal is accustomed to, and it's hard to embrace while five Premier League foes compete on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, but it's the competition that beckons. It's a means to an end. And it's time for a recalibration of expectations and goals and a truthful look in the mirror.