With each passing week, it’s looking more and more likely that Arsenal will need to win the Europa League to save their season, writes DEAN WORKMAN.
It became quite apparent last season when Jose Mourinho realised that his Manchester United side were not going to finish among the top four teams in the Premier League. The Portuguese manager quickly turned his attention to Europe’s secondary competition, the Europa League. United’s triumph saw them qualify for the all-important Champions League and it ultimately saved their season.
Between 1998–99 and 2016–17, Arsenal qualified for nineteen successive UEFA Champions League seasons, an English football record, and a feat that has only been surpassed in Europe by Real Madrid. Now, Wenger and his side face an unthinkable second consecutive season without participation in Europe’s elite competition.
After finishing fifth last season, the Gunners sit in a perilous position in the Premier League this time round, as they lie a mammoth 12 points behind fourth-place Liverpool in sixth. While all those above them are performing consistently, the North London based side look certain to miss out on Champions League qualification yet again.
There is, however, a single glimmer of hope for Wenger’s men in the Europa League. The side holds a comfortable 2-0 advantage over AC Milan heading into this week’s round-of-16 second leg tie at the Emirates Stadium. With the two away goals in their favour, avoiding defeat this week will see Arsenal move through to the quarter-finals and one step closer to a first European triumph since the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1994 and, of course, the main goal of qualification for next season’s Champions League.
They will, though, undoubtedly face tough competition if they are to win this season’s edition of the Europa League. With major European side’s such as Atletico Madrid, Lazio, Borussia Dortmund and Lyon still in the competition, winning this trophy will not prove to be simple.
Just as his colleague did last year, Wenger must follow Mourinho’s example and place all his eggs in the Europa League basket. Winning the trophy would not only set Arsenal up to take part in next season’s Champions League but it could also provide a fitting farewell to Wenger. The Frenchman may have another season left on his contract at Arsenal but after coming under severe pressure from the fans yet again this season, winning the Europa League may well just save Wenger’s legacy.
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