The Europa League occupies a weird place in English football despite the media’s obsession with certain clubs needing to win trophies.
It is denigrated by most pundits and taken far from seriously by every English club and set of supporters that make the tournament. Even Burnley didn’t bother to give it much of a go despite reaching Europe for the first time in 51 years.
So some Arsenal fans might be surprised by Unai Emery’s insistence that he will treat the tournament with more respect than the Premier League but this shouldn’t be a shock to anyone paying attention. Outside of England, the Europa League is treated like the proper European tournament that it is.
Even here at Daily Cannon, we’ve frequently been dismissive of the competition, but that was more to do with mocking Spurs than anything else. It’s amazing how your perspective changes when it happens to you, but even as we laughed at Tottenham and Comedy Thursdays, behind the scenes we always knew we were doing that for ‘the bants’. A club of Arsenal’s stature can’t afford to be so sniffy when it comes to European trophies given how few we have in our trophy cabinet.
While Arsene Wenger got his side out of the group last year using a mix of kids and fringe players, how much of a boost would the first team have gotten from playing against the likes of BATE Borisov where they could have scored a hatful of goals? Winning breeds winning and it is hard to argue that the first-teamers did enough last season to warrant being spared the ‘humiliation’ of playing in a competition they landed us in in the first place.
“After the Champions League, the Europa League is the most important competition,” said Emery ahead of the game against Newcastle. “If teams cannot play in the Champions League, it is very important. When we opened this possibility that, when you win the Europa League, you play in the Champions League, it was the key to improve the interest in this competition.
“I have proven with my experience to know the best way to manage the players [in the Europa League],” he continued. “My idea first isn’t to change 11 players for one competition and the next competition. Each match is giving us information for how we can play.”
It’s hard to disagree with Emery here. He won the tournament three times in a row while guiding Sevilla to 5th, 5th, and 7th place finish in the league as well as a Copa Del Rey final at the same time. Don’t be distracted by that 7th-place finish, either. He finished that season with a load of youth and fringe players in the team after they qualified for the Europa League final again.
Despite all this, Arsenal are still set to make a number of changes for the game on Thursday night but the build-up and approach looks set to be very different. Arsene Wenger’s disdain for the Europa League was as clear as Emery’s respect for it.
Lucas Torreira will get his first Arsenal start on Thursday when FC Vorskla Poltava arrive in town. Torreira arrived at the club this summer and was Arsenal’s most expensive acquisition of the window, costing £26.4m but has so far been limited to five substitute appearances.
Bernd Leno is also expected to start instead of Petr Cech while the likes of Eddie Nketiah and Emile Smith Rowe were not with the u23s for their 0-0 draw with Blackburn on Monday night, hinting at involvement on Thursday.
Stephan Lichtsteiner should also come into the starting lineup for the game while Danny Welbeck is also under consideration for a starting role with Henrikh Mkhitaryan also expected to start along with Rob Holding.