Arsenal began their first campaign in UEFA’s second tier continental club competition in 17 years Thursday with a 3-1 home win over FC Cologne and their mass of noisy supporters. Despite victory there may yet be a large portion of Gunners fans who don’t feel they have too much to feel pleased about. Europa League is not the UCL after all. However, I believe there are in fact some positives for Arsenal to take from their current state of affairs:
1. Rotation provides a chance for others to shine
The Europa League will force Arséne Wenger to utilise his squad to its fullest extent. That should result in a number of starts for the likes of Theo Walcott, Olivier Giroud, Jack Wilshere and Mathieu Debuchy amongst others. All of those will no doubt be eager to stake a claim for a starting berth in the Premier League. Giroud and Walcott did start against Cologne, with Wilshere making an appearance from the bench.
The tournament may also allow some of the club’s most talented and exciting youngsters to gain valuable competitive first team experience. Stars such as Reiss Nelson and Ainsley Maitland-Niles must surely find themselves at the top of that list. Nelson’s and Maitland-Niles’s ability to operate as wing backs further increases their chances of playing regularly in the competition. Wenger will want to rest some of his first choice defenders ahead of weekend Premier League clashes. So we may also see him use the Europa League as a frontier for tactical tinkering. He may even revert to deploying a back four on a regular basis in this competition first, as he did in the second half against the German outfit.
2. Cheaper tickets provide a chance for fans to fill the Emirates Stadium
Arsenal are notorious for their high ticket prices. Much improvement needs to be made in this area regardless of which level of European competition they are playing at. The Europa League group stage fixtures are a great opportunity for the club to drop their admission prices. That could fill the Emirates with fans who simply can’t afford the extortionate ticket prices for Premier League fixtures. Whilst this was not the case in the opening fixture of the competition—there were lots of empty seats amongst the home supports, and one suspects there would have been many more had Cologne fans not smuggled themselves in all around the ground—it can be hoped that as Arsenal’s season picks up these European clashes will attract more fans who can’t otherwise usually attend.
The Emirates is routinely and justifiably accused of lacking atmosphere. The crowd and spectacle could do with every boost it can get. That is particularly the case with a competition like Europa League. One that is neither the club’s nor the fans’ first choice.
3. They can actually win some European silverware!
It isn’t the Champions League, everyone knows that. It is however a real chance for Arsenal and Arséne Wenger to finally get their hands on a continental trophy. Not only that, lifting the Europa League cup will see the Gunners qualify for next year’s Champions League. Wenger has already been clear that he doesn’t view the tournament as a viable alternative route of qualification for Europe’s premier competition. That is understandable. However, in the season’s final stages—should Arsenal still be in the Europa League and their Premier League campaign struggling—he might well be glad of the additional carrot that winning the Europa League offers.