1. Squad rotation
Arsenal have a long history of insufficient squad depth, but this current team has more players fighting for the same positions than in previous years. Players returning from long-term injuries, loans, and particularly the long-awaited arrival of former Lyon favourite Alexandre Lacazette, has left manager Arsène Wenger spoilt for choice.
The Europa League allows players who are usually excluded from the starting lineup to test their competitive streak on an international level – an opportunity that used to be reserved for League Cup and FA Cup games. It is also a great platform for the young guns like Reiss Nelson and Ainsley Maitland-Niles to spread their wings in a more competitive European setting. This also means resting regular starters, which brings me to my second reason:
2. Competitive in the league
The title race usually is a far-fetched fantasy for most realists, as the hopes and dreams of fans are bound to be shattered by the time most of us have already given up on our New Year’s resolutions. However, it is a relief knowing that Arsenal do not have the pressure of Champions League fixtures breathing down their necks. Less games allow the team to focus on getting back into the top four and end the season on a high.
The prospect of winning the league seems further away as other teams have grown stronger; Manchester City are bulldozing through opponents five goals at a time, Manchester United are possibly making a comeback, while Tottenham and Chelsea are continuing their strong form from last season. Be that as it may, this season will be a crucial turning point for Arsenal in retaining their best players and attracting new signings, by ensuring Champions League football for the next season. Hence why reason three is important:
3. Easier route to Champions League
Despite finishing sixth in the league, Manchester United saw themselves return to the Champions League after beating Ajax 2-0 in the Europa League final. Arsenal should aim to emulate their Mancunian rivals, as this European title is realistically within reach. I will further expand on this in the following reason:
4. Much needed reality check
Fans will, and have, argued that Arsenal have a ‘top class squad too good for the Europa League’, but the bitter truth is that they have never won the Champions League, despite qualifying for the past 17 years. Bar a few players, this current team has operated on Europa League standards the same number of seasons (seven) that they have failed to go beyond the round of 16.
The players needed this reality check to save themselves from unnecessary pressure and unrealistic expectations that they had no chance of fulfilling, let alone exceeding. The same fans who believe Arsenal are far too superior for the Europa League, need to acknowledge that their team is not good enough to compete with the likes of FC Barcelona and Bayern Munich. This brings me to my fifth and final reason:
5. Avoid Bayern Munich
Joking aside, it would be refreshing not to face humiliation at the hands of German giants Bayern Munich again (and again). Although they did lose 3-0 against Paris Saint-Germain this week so who knows whether it’s Auf Wiedersehen, Pet just yet…