For Arsenal to get back to the Champions League level, it appears that running the Europa League gauntlet is a more realistic route than climbing into the Premier League's top four.

By 90Min
February 13, 2018

If you asked Manchester United fans at the start of the 2016/17 season where the UEFA Europa League ranked on their list of goals come the end of the season, many would see Europe's secondary club tournament as nothing more than a distraction to the pressing domestic matters of a Premier League title. 

However, if you asked those same fans on 24th May minutes after United's 2-0 success against Ajax in the final, they probably thought that the win in Stockholm was their most important of the season, allowing them to qualify for the Champions League the following season despite a disappointing finish of sixth in the league.

Credit must go to Jose Mourinho, who put his ego to one side and made sure he selected strong teams with his big hitters throughout the entirety of the competition and respected the prize that awaited the winner. 

Arsene Wenger now finds himself in the same situation as the enigmatic Portuguese manager, and the Frenchman would be wise to follow in his footsteps and take advantage of a golden opportunity to guarantee Champions League football for next season. 

To say that Arsenal had a relatively comfortable group to begin their Europa League adventure wouldn't be far from the truth. The Gunners comfortably dispatched of Serbian champions Red Star Belgrade, Belarusian champions Bate Borisov and struggling Bundesliga outfit FC Koln while playing a side predominantly made up of academy graduates and first team fringe players. 

The likes of Edward Nketiah, Reiss Nelson and Ainsley Maitland-Niles have all benefited from their game time in the Europa League this season, with Maitland-Niles making the step up as part of Arsenal's Premier League squad in recent months.

Entering the knockout stages of the Europa League however, it is vital that Wenger takes the Europa League seriously at this stage, by playing as many of his established first team players as possible.

In many ways, Arsenal's current season draws many parallels with Manchester United's 2016/17 season, based on more than just Europa League football this season.

2016/17 Premier League after Matchweek 27:

Position Club Played Won Drawn Lost Points
4th Liverpool 27 15 7 5 52
5th Arsenal 26 15 5 6 50
6th Manchester United 26 13 10 3 49

(Manchester United went on to finish 6th, seven points off eventual 4th placed side Liverpool.)

2017/18 Premier League after Matchweek 27:

Position Club Played Won Drawn Lost Points
4th Chelsea 27 16 5 6 53
5th Tottenham 27 15 7 5 52
6th Arsenal 27 13 6 8 44

With identical placings and a similar points return at this stage of the season, the main difference is the points gap from last season to this season is the points gap from sixth to fourth.

Arsenal's defeat in the North London derby on Saturday, coupled with Chelsea's 3-0 win against West Brom on Monday means the Gunners are nine points adrift of the Champions League places and seemingly off the pace to break into the top four. 

The Europa League however offers Arsenal the chance to salvage a disappointing season by their standards. Like United, they have the chance to win the League Cup this season should they defeat Manchester City in the final in two weeks time, meaning the season could end with two trophies and guaranteed Champions League football for next season. 

Arsenal are quite rightly considered one of the favorites left in the competition alongside the likes of Napoli, Borussia Dortmund and Atletico Madrid. Not to mention tricky obstacles in the shape of Olympique Lyonnais, AC Milan and RB Leipzig makes the Europa League a very open competition, but one for the taking. 

Speaking ahead of their first challenge, a last 32 first-leg tie to Sweden to face Graham Potter's Ostersund FK, Wenger has confirmed he will play the strongest squad available to him, welcoming words to those connected with Arsenal.

Reported via The Metro, he said: "I will play the normal team because it's one of the opportunities we have, especially because we don't play in the FA Cup this season. There is no reason why I should rest players."

Calls for Wenger to play a full strength Arsenal side have not come just from the fans, as even the likes of club legend Thierry Henry believes the Europa League represents the best opportunity to achieve Champions League football for next season.

To say Arsenal's season rests on Europa League success is somewhat wide of the mark, as a nine point gap can be diminished in a matter of weeks. That being said, Manchester United proved last season that a disappointing league finish can be forgotten with a Europa League trophy, making Europe's secondary prize first priority for Arsenal. 

You May Like

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)