Could Early Europa Exit Boost Champions League Aspirations For Arsenal?
It was a source of humiliation in a week when their Premier League rivals Manchester United overcame an intimidating Paris Saint-Germain outfit, that Arsenal had to suffer the ignominy of a 3-1 loss to France mid-table wallowers Rennes in the Europa League at Roazhon Park.
The Gunners now welcome Les Rouges et Noirs to the Emirates Stadium for the second-leg of the tie, staring the prospect of exiting the competition directly in the face.
Unai Emery’s north London side are also embroiled in a top-four skirmish in the domestic league with Manchester United, Chelsea, and their fierce rivals Tottenham Hotspur, to whom they’ve gained ground on to go within a point of them in third.
With the Premier League offering qualification into the Champions League for next season with a top-four finish, Arsenal are now in the quandary of knowing that crashing out of the Europa may bolster their hopes of entry with the easing of a potentially congested schedule with European tournament for the rest of the season, and maybe have the domestic advantage on the rest of the competition vying for places in an unforgiving bottleneck.
Rivals Chelsea already have one foot into the Quarter-Finals of the Europa, by taking a 3-0 advantage to the Ukraine to face Dynamo Kyiv once again. Meanwhile Spurs and Man Utd have gained passage into the last eight of the Champions League, with the possibility of facing competition such as heavyweights Barcelona and Juventus.
Both Spurs and United’s two-leg Quarter-Finals are due to take place on the 9th and 10th April, and the 16th and 17th April. For the Lilywhites, the second-leg will become before a formidable journey to the Etihad to face Manchester City in the league.
The Europa League fixtures are due to be played on the 11th April and, and then on the 18th April. Dependent on Arsenal’s progression, this could come at a daunting time on the road for the Gunners with the unenviable route of three successive away games, a Europa League match sandwiched in between a visit to Everton on the 6th April and Watford (though obviously not a great distance) on Saturday 13th April, which would likely be adjusted to the Sunday.
The Semi-Finals - drawn immediately after the Quarter-Finals - will then take place on 2nd May, and 9th May. Currently Arsenal’s schedule slots a trip to the King Power and Leicester (27th April) and welcoming Brighton & Hove Albion (4th May), again subject to be rearranged by a day.
Winning the Europa League offers automatic entry into it’s bigger sister next season, as Manchester United achieved in 2016/17. However, realistically, it could work to Arsenal’s benefit to take the opprobrium of seceding from the Europa to Rennes, and focus on gearing up for a strong sprint - perhaps even for a podium finish - as the Premier League gears up towards its conclusion.
Manchester United, Spurs, and Chelsea’s ongoing continental distractions could prove to be Arsenal’s ace in the hole.
🏆 Europa League
🏟 Emirates Stadium
🆚 Stades Rennais