What the Europa League draw means for Arsenal and Chelsea
As Arsenal and Chelsea sat down to watch the Europa League draw they are unlikely to have been pleased about it. After all, these two sides believe they belong in the Champions League.
By the end, their sentiments towards the competition will not have improved. For both, these fixtures are a distraction they could do without. Fortunately, the draw has been kind, at least when it comes to opponents.
First, Arsenal and Group E. Paired with Sporting Lisbon, Qarabag and Vorskla, this is a group they should be topping with little issue.
Sporting represents their biggest challengers for top spot but are a team that doesn’t have the quality to challenge the Gunners. That’s because they lost most of their star players this summer following the turbulence that surrounded the club last season.
On paper at least, this should be on that Arsenal can win comfortably home and away. Qarabag and Vorskla are the same. The former’s past form against English sides in Europe shows they sit far below the required standard. For the record, they’ve lost all four with an aggregate score of 14-1.
The biggest issue will be the travelling for Arsenal. Their three away fixtures see them travel around 10,000 miles, 2,400 of which will be to Baku to take on Qarabag. That kind of mileage is a major concern, to say the least. Some may even consider it a nightmare.
Their Premier League campaign is likely to be affected as a result. The Thursday-Sunday routine coupled with those miles is sure to have negative consequences.
Arsenal can at least be encouraged that their new manager knows how to navigate this competition. Emery is the manager who won it for three years in a row with Sevilla. Anything but first in this group would be a disappointment, even if he decides to go with a second string team throughout.
Unlike Emery, Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri has not had much association with the Europa League. In fact, he’s only played ten games in the competition. Fortunately for the Blues, he’s won seven of those. He’ll be confident he can add to those in this year’s competition.
Placed in Group L alongside Bate Borisov, PAOK and Videoton, this is a group they should be looking to top with ease. Indeed, first place should be theirs regardless of the team they decide to play.
Bate represent the biggest challenger for first place but that is unlikely to be a great challenge. This is, after all, the same side who lost 4-2 and 6-0 to Arsenal in the group stages last year.
PAOK could provide an upset and showed as much with a 1-1 draw against Benfica in the first leg of their Champions League play-off but the 4-1 loss in the second leg, in which they were down to ten men, was a better demonstration of their level.
Vidi, meanwhile, are an unknown quantity having not been in the competition since 2012/13. The fact that Hungarian teams have never won in England and conceded 40 goals in 18 games demonstrates the level they are likely to be at.
Rather than opponents, travelling is again the biggest enemy. 6,800 miles to cover on their away games is likely to cause negative effects further down the line.
Sarri’s approach to competition is another interesting point. His Napoli side should have gone far after dropping in last year. Instead, they were knocked out in the last 32 by RB Leipzig. The sentiment was that they decided to focus on their league push. If Chelsea continue their fine start to the season, it is to see Sarri taking a similar approach.
Of course, neither Arsenal nor Chelsea want to be in the Europa League. They are Champions League teams and have become accustomed to it.
But silverware is everything to fans. With the groups that they have been handed, they should be looking to progress with ease. Indeed, the draw has set both teams up to go far.