Saturday, 26 August 2017

Arsenal's Tour Of Europe's Backwaters Confirmed

Since Arsenal finished fifth in the Premier League last season us fans having been waiting with bated breath for our Europa League fixtures to be announced. Our dreams came true on Friday when we were drawn in Group H alongside FC Cologne, Red Star Belgrade and BATE Borisov. The draw could have been kinder, but at least the distances we have to travel won't be too ridiculous.

We start the tournament as favourites to win it and the big decision for Arsene Wenger is how much importance he gives to the competition. The Premier League campaign hasn't got off to the best start and there's a tough trip to Liverpool on Sunday before the international break kicks in and the transfer window shuts. The Europa League will start just after the players return from that international break when Cologne came calling on Thursday September 14th. 

All three of our home games kick off at 8.05 on a Thursday night while all three away games will be at 6pm on Thursdays too. It's going to mean a lot of Sunday football for Arsenal and we'll be playing catch up on the other title challengers most weeks if we can get ourselves anywhere near the top of the table. There could be quite a lot of pressure on the players as a result and we have found that hard to cope with far too often in the past.

At least we haven't got away games against any of last season's top six after we have been on our European travels. There are two away league games after away games, but they are at Everton and Burnley where we can at least hope to get something from the game. Everton will have Europa League group games of their own to contend with and that might be to our advantage.

If we're going to progress from our group it won't be as easy as some might expect and our three opponents will all feel they have a chance against us. None of them have anywhere near the European experience that we have had in the last 20 seasons of continuous Champions League football, but none of them are pushovers either. If we play a weakened or reserve team we could find ourselves with an uphill fight to qualify from the group and not to make the knock out stages would be not only a disaster, but a real embarrassment too.

United won the competition last season and winning it put them through to this season's Champions League and it's a route we can't ignore. On the face of it the Europa League is there for Arsenal to win while we are by no means certain of a top four finish in the Premier League. The trick in the group stages will be for the manager to find a balance that gets us through, but doesn't take from our tough league schedule.

If he's to be believed we're finished with our transfer business for the summer and he claims to be happy with where the squad is. There may be more departures, but it seems no more players will arrive if he is to be believed. I'm not so sure he's done though and I really hope he can pull a top class rabbit out of the hat because the squad needs strengthening before the window closes.

In other news we have been drawn at home to Doncaster Rovers in the third round of the Carabao Cup with the game to be played on September 20th. That's a competition where the manager will get the chance to use reserve and fringe players and as usual it will be good to see a few of them get a chance to play in front of a big crowd at the Emirates. It's not a competition we're going to win, but it's good to blood the youngsters and see how far we can go while the star players get a bit of a rest. 

Before any of those competitions get going we face a very difficult trip to Liverpool on Sunday and it's a game I'll preview tomorrow. It's a huge game so early on for both clubs and one which neither of them can afford to lose. Team selection and tactics on the day will be crucial and I'll look long and hard at our chances in my preview.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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