The Europa League has, so far, been a fun and novel experience for Arsenal fans.
Few fans would have been revelling in the prospect of Thursday night football at the Emirates. The Europa League was, for so long, an object of derision; the competition nobody wanted to be in and a mockery of the European experience.
It was, as some would call it, all a bit ‘Spursy’.
However, now that we’re here, it hasn’t been all that bad.
Sure, the kick-off times are weird, and the Europa League anthem isn’t as catchy as the Champions League one, and all our big rivals – literally, all five of them – are playing with the elite, but the experience so far has been novel and, dare I say it, fun.
Part of that is simply down to the reduced pressure.
While losing to a BATE Borisov or Red Star Belgrade would be humiliating, the games have nowhere near the same level of significance as a Champions League night, where even a home game against Ludogorets can feel like something special.
Here, in the second-tier competition, it’s a reluctant Arsenal sending out fringe players and children against earnest but low quality opposition, almost as if its a FA Cup or League Cup match.
Just like those matches, there’s a chance to see exciting talents and a liberated Arsenal play some good football.
Sometimes, when we’re toiling away in the league, it’s nice to see a Joe Willock or Reiss Nelson play without fear or reservation.
On the subject of the opposition, it’s hard not to be humbled by the sheer excitement our opponents have felt when they played us.
10,000 plus Cologne fans rocking up at the Emirates for a match caused no end of chaos, but was indicative of how much they were looking forward to the game – their first European match in decades, and against a huge club like Arsenal, no less.
The support at BATE Borisov wasn’t quiet as fervent, yet still charged with anticipation of Arsenal’s arrival. The upcoming trip to Belgrade to play Red Star is hardly going to be a quiet one, either.
It helps, of course, that Arsenal are winning, and stand a genuine chance of winning the whole competition.
In my life time, the closest Arsenal have gotten to a European trophy was the Champions League final in 2006. Since then, I’ve seen us drift further and further away from the level required to compete, going from potential dark horses to whipping boys for Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
There’s not much glory in winning the Europa League, but we can’t turn our noses up at European success for a club that’s been so short of it.
Hope is an important thing for a football fan.
As sweet as getting one over on a Bayern or Barcelona is, the lack of any realistic hope of overcoming them and progressing to the latter stages sucked some of the enjoyment out of the Champions League.
The Europa League knockout stages shouldn’t have that issue.
It’ll offer just enough competition to make it not feel like a procession, but at the same time will give us a good chance of progression.
With any luck, our stay in the Europa League will just be a year long.
However, it’s a year I’m determined to enjoy.