‘Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.’
Those were wise words from Alexander Pope; however, he never got to experience the wrath of the modern football fan, who shall not be scorned by perceived below-par performances and results.
Expectations are a funny thing in football. Most fans have preposterous ideas of what their team can achieve in a season, but you can’t help but feel for Arsenal fans, who have been short-changed by their club for the past decade or so.
Arsene Wenger became part of the furniture in North London, and with each passing year – despite stagnation on the pitch – he became even harder to sack as his record-breaking continued unchecked.
Eventually, the Frenchman said au revoir, and Unai Emery was given the thankless task of trying to revitalize Arsenal’s fortunes and make them a force at home and on the continent once more.
So far, so… meh.
After 12 rounds of Premier League matches, the Gunners have won just four games and boast a negative goal difference.
Indeed, they are in danger of not finishing inside the top six or seven at the moment, which could mean the unthinkable: no European football in 2020/21 at the Emirates.
And that explains why the Europa League should be so important to Arsenal this season, and certainly to Emery if he has any aspirations of not collecting his P45 next summer.
The Stuff of Champions
While much maligned, the Europa League offers so much value to teams like Arsenal.
Winning the Premier League is an impossibility for the Gunners, and even a top-four finish looks out of the equation at this early juncture.
And so actually winning the Europa League is their best chance of playing in next season’s Champions League.
Lifting the trophy is not implausible, either. Emery’s men have made decent strides in their group already, and if they can avoid any big guns that are dumped out of the Champions League and subsequently enter the competition at the Round of 32 stage, their +500 Europa League odds with the sportsbooks will begin to look excellent value indeed.
For now, the Spanish manager is fielding a sort of ‘mix and match’ starting eleven in Europa League matches. There’s been game time for players on the periphery of first-team action: Lucas Torreira, Shkodran Mustafi and Kieran Tierney are excellent talents at this level.
But there’s been strong showings from young, hungry players who must feel that they have something to prove. Gabriel Martinelli has scored three times in as many games, Joe Willock has shone in midfield and Nicolas Pepe – yet to find his feet in the Premier League – has really hit the ground running on the continent.
Introducing your October Player of the Month… 🥁
🏆 Gabriel Martinelli 🏆
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) November 8, 2019
The fact that Emery has occasionally pressed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Dani Ceballos into action also confirms that he is taking the Europa League seriously.
He has been rewarded with a near-perfect group campaign, with three wins – but for an injury-time equaliser from Vitoria Guimaraes, it would have been four and a 100% record.
The takeaway point is simple: for Arsenal to qualify for European football next season, they are more than likely going to have to win the Europa League. The FA Cup continually saved Arsene Wenger’s job as manager, and victory on the continent might just do the same for Unai Emery.