With Arsenal currently sitting 10th in the league table, level on points with Leeds, it’s starting to look like Mission: Impossible for Mikel Arteta and his men as far as getting into Europe is concerned.
Before the international break the Gunners narrowly avoided getting dumped out of the Europa League in almost identical circumstances as last season. Greek league leaders Olympiacos travelled to the Emirates looking to overcome a 3-1 deficit, some smart saves from Arsenal’s number 1, Bernd Leno, stopped them going ahead before half time.
In the 51st minute, history began to repeat itself as a deflected shot from Youssef El-Arabi put Olympiacos a goal in front. However, any chance of a comeback was thwarted when Ousseynou Ba received a harsh second yellow card for battering the ball away in frustration. The referee’s decision left the Senegalese centre-back in tears as his side crashed out of the competition.
Arsenal are due to play Slavia Prague in the quarter-finals on the 8th of April. To an unkeen observer this fixture looks like it will be a walk in the park for the Gunners, but fans know that Prague are not a team that back down easily.
In the last round Slavia overturned Steven Gerrard’s Rangers with ease, with the Scottish champions ending the match with 9 men. Peter Olayinka forced a bullet header past Allan McGregor in the first 15 minutes which rocked the Rangers team, who haven’t been the same since they won the league 3 weeks ago.
The game was then put to bed when Slavia’s Romanian danger man, Nicolae Stanciu, curled a free kick into the top-left, past a static Allan McGregor into the top corner. Again, highlighting his incredible European form, following on from his stunning opening goal in the first-leg. If there is anyone who is going to cause Arsenal problems, it’s Stanciu.
If the Gunners do make it past Slavia Prague they will either face Dinamo Zagreb, who were too much for Spurs to handle in the last round, or Unai Emery’s Villarreal, who are still trying to force their way into the European places in La Liga this season.
After Orsic’s spectacular hat-trick against Tottenham his market value has skyrocketed. Arsenal have already displayed a keen interest in the Croatian winger, with West Ham also looking to add him to their squad for next season.
With Emery’s incredible track record in the competition, Villarreal are the team most likely to face Arsenal in the next round. They faced Dynamo Kyiv in the last round and swiftly swept them aside 2-0 (4-0 agg.), with a 2-1 win over Cádiz in between.
Again, Villarreal are not a team to be underestimated. Spanish striker, Gerard Moreno, will most likely start up-front for the Spanish side. This season he has racked up an impressive 16 goals and 5 assists in La Liga, as well as having 7 goal involvements in 7 games in the Europa League (4 goals, 3 assists).
Looking even further ahead to the final, Manchester United are starting to look like a serious candidate for lifting the Europa League trophy this year. After an impressive victory over AC Milan, United are expected to sweep aside Granada and then face either Ajax or Roma in the semis.
Ajax, currently leading Eredivisie, finished third in their Champions League group and have looked impressive in the UEL so far. However, after losing a couple of big names in the summer, Ajax don’t look comfortable in big games. With this in mind, Manchester United surely have enough firepower to edge past Roma, if their key players stay fit.
The Gunners have started to become a bit of a bogey team for Manchester United over the past two seasons. Arsenal have only lost 1 in their last 7 games against United, that coming in the form of a 3-1 home defeat in the FA Cup 4th round. A game which saw Alexis Sanchez score on his return to the Emirates.
If the competition goes the way many fans are predicting, with both English teams competing in the final, it should be a fantastic spectacle. It is about time that Mikel Arteta took a page out of Mourinho’s book and focused the club’s efforts on winning the Europa League.
If Arsenal want to qualify for the Europa League this year they will have to leapfrog Everton, who have a 4 point advantage, and hope Villa don’t get anything from their game in hand. This being highly unlikely if recent form is anything to go off, winning the UEL is the Gunner’s only hope for European football next season.
featured image credit sky sports