Would the Europa League be so bad?


In recent weeks I have been thinking about the possibility of Arsenal playing in the Europa League next season. After Sunday’s defeat to Tottenham, it is looking more and more likely that the possibility could well become reality for Arsenal next season.

I have been thinking long and hard about the whole thing and thought I would share my thoughts on the situation.

Arsenal have qualified for the Champions League every year since 1998. They have consistently been qualifying for the tournament under Arsene Wenger. Have Arsenal won the Champions League in that period of time?. Unfortunately they have not. They have come close on a number of occasions, but haven’t quite been able to get their hands on the trophy that they want to win so desperately.

In 2001, Arsenal went out on away goals to Valencia in the quarter-finals. Away goals. They were 15 minutes away from a semi-final with Leeds. It’s a possibility that the Gunners could have actually won the tournament. In 2004, Arsenal again fell at the quarter-final stage. Wayne Bridge scored a late winner at Highbury for Chelsea to prevent extra-time from being played. Chelsea were a team Arsenal had no troubles beating, yet they somehow slipped up in a year that the trophy was there for the taking.

Two years later, Arsenal came closer than ever to lifting it. Despite having 10 men for much of the Final against Barcelona in Paris, the Gunners lead for much of the game only to concede two goals in the last 15 minutes and finish runners-up.

Three years on and the Gunners were in the semi-finals, losing 4-1 on aggregate to Manchester United.

So as you can tell, Arsene Wenger has come very close to lifting  the trophy on a few occasions, but as of yet, he has not. The way things are going, Wenger won’t be getting his hands on the trophy this year and he might well not even get a shot at it next season. If Arsenal fail to finish 4th or above, they will not be in the Champions League next season. The only other route into the Champions League would be to follow the same path that Liverpool did in 2005 and Chelsea did just last year and win the competition. With Bayern Munich 3-1 up and at home in the return leg of their Champions League tie with Arsenal, it looks like the London club are all but out of the competition in honesty.

Arsenal aren’t guaranteed European football of any kind next season. Swansea won the Capital One Cup and the winners of the FA Cup will take the place should they not be a Champions League team. Arsenal would have to finish 5th in the Premier League to qualify for the Europa League next season and would enter at the play-off stage. Both Everton and Liverpool will still have their eyes on 5th place currently. Of course Arsenal are pushing for at least 4th place so that they will qualify for the Champions League, but are currently 5 points behind Chelsea in 4th.

So… what’s so bad about the Europa League?: Rightly or wrongly, the Europa League is viewed as the inferior brother of the Champions League. This is for a few reasons. Firstly, the Europa League is a competition for the team’s that aren’t quite good enough for the Champions League. Routes into the Europa League can come from finishing 5th in the league, domestic cup success, failing to win a Champions League qualifier and finishing 3rd in the Champions League group stages. So naturally it is always going to be second best to it’s big brother and clubs would rather be in the Champions League of course.

  • Prize money – Winning the Europa League this year would earn you about £6m prize money and possibly up to £4m for other things such as marketing. The Champions League is worth a lot more than that to all teams that qualify. Sponsors will pay less for Europa League rights than Champions League rights too, so the financial benefits of Champions League football to a team are significant, whether they appear in just the group stages or progress as far as the final.
  • Media coverage – In recent years, jokes have been made about teams playing on Channel 5 or ITV4 instead of Sky or ITV1 (Champions League broadcasters). ITV’s sister channels often cover Europa League action and I think ESPN now cover it opposed to Channel 5. Either way, fans of other clubs will call it a ‘Mickey Mouse Cup’ due to this perception of it being inferior.
  • The competition goes on far too long. If you’re in it from the start you will be playing in qualifiers from the start of July onwards. The playoff rounds would start in August, which would be no different to playing a Champions League qualifier.
  • Since being rebranded in 2009 as the Europa League, the competition allowed 16 more teams into the competition, meaning more groups had to be made up. You think that’s HALF the amount of teams that enter the Champions League being added to an already large competition. Then the 3rd place team’s from the Champions League will join them in the knockout stages.
  • Thursday night games – Not ideal for teams wanting to do well in other competitions.

So there are plenty of negative sides to it. There is more to it that can be possibly negative too:

Attracting  quality players to join your club / loss of best players: When a team falls into the Europa League, some players at your club could want to leave to join a team in the Champions League. Another problem could be attracting players to join your club. Players will want to join a side already in the Champions League and will likely choose those sides ahead of a Europa League team. Also, you lose a lot of money by failing to qualify for the Champions League, so having the money to attract the players may be an issue – although Arsenal don’t spend much money even when they do qualify for it.

I have mentioned this in previous articles written, but I do believe Tottenham did a good job last summer. They attracted some very good players to the club despite failing to qualify for the Champions League and they also kept hold of Gareth Bale, a player that has had a terrific season for them so far. I don’t do this often, but you have to credit them on that one.

Will Arsenal fans attend Europa League games?: I am not a footballing snob. My team does not have to be playing in the Champions League every year to have my support. A lot of Arsenal fans are saying they would not go to Europa League games. A lot would depend on how the club approach the competition. If Arsenal play their reserve team in every game they will struggle to get people through the turnstiles. It will also depend on the price of the ticket. If you’re charging Champions League prices for a game against a team from Azerbaijan, you will not sell tickets. If you’re sensible and offer discounted rates (particularly for children’s tickets), you will get crowds coming. Obviously there is a potential for a loss of money if the stadium is half empty or the ticket prices are less than those you charge for Champions League games. Night games are hard to sell tickets for anyway as the trains back are difficult for some fans, particularly those that live outside of London. It’s hard enough in the Champions League, let alone the Europa League.

I think the fans would certainly get a shock if they were playing Shamrock Rovers at home instead of Barcelona or Bayern Munich, but it is something they would get used to. The play-off fixtures and group stage games would be hard to sell tickets for, but in the knockout stages when they’d be playing against better teams, they would have a good chance of selling out still.

What are the positive things about the Europa League?: Now if you have read all of the article you may be thinking that I am against Arsenal being in the Europa League. Obviously I would rather we qualified for the Champions League, but if we can’t then I would be happy enough with the Europa League. There’s no reason why us fans should feel ‘above’ the Europa League.


  • It is a winnable competition – If Arsenal were to take the Europa League seriously (should they even be in it), it is certainly a competition they are capable of winning.
  • Winning it would end the trophy drought – Whatever your opinion of the Europa League is, it still counts as a trophy. Arsenal have been given a lot of stick for their lack of silverware in recent years and winning this would end the drought.
  • It is a competition we could rest players in – When Arsenal play in the group stages of the Champions League, they have to take every game seriously and every opponent too. In the Europa League, they may be able to rest key players in certain games (particularly in the early stages of it).
  • If they did go out of it early, it would give Arsenal a chance to focus on qualifying for the Champions League the next season as well as meaning Arsenal could have a better go at winning a domestic cup than in recent years.

Another positive that could be taken from falling into the Europa League would be that it would wake the board up a little. Year after year the board (and manager for that matter) have been content with merely qualifying for the Champions League rather than winning trophies. That has been deemed good enough for them since the move from Highbury to the Emirates and a lot of fans, including myself, disagree. I have stated that it is still possible to attract good players in the summer even if we are a Europa League team instead of Champions League. Maybe finally failing to qualify for the Champions League will make the manager and board spend some money so it doesn’t happen again.

Arsenal in the Europa League / Equivalent:

Arsenal won the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1970. This competition was the predecessor to what became the UEFA Cup before it was rebranded in recent years as the Europa League. The Gunners lost the first leg of the 1970 final against Anderlecht 3-1. However, the Gunners would shock the Belgians in the second leg at Highbury by beating them 3-0. This meant that the trophy was Arsenal’s and it was the first European trophy that the club won.

You have to remember that the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup used to be a tournament too, which was ranked above the UEFA Cup at the time in prestige. Arsenal won the 1994 final 1-0 against Parma and lost the final to Real Zaragoza the following season.

Arsenal qualified for the UEFA Cup in 1996/97 and 1997/98, going out in the first round of the competition in both those seasons.

Arsenal finished 3rd in their Champions League group in 1999/2000, so fell into the UEFA Cup. The Gunners progressed all the way to the Final against Galatasaray in Copenhagen. Arsenal came very close to scoring on a number of occasions but couldn’t break the deadlock, even though the Turkish side were reduced to ten men in extra-time due to the sending off of Gheorghe Hagi. In the end the Final came down to penalties. Arsenal only managed to score once in the shootout through Ray Parlour. Davor Suker and Patrick Vieira missed from the spot, whilst Galatasaray didn’t miss any of their spot kicks, therefore winning 4-1 on penalties.

Arsenal players look on in disappointment after losing on penalties to Galatasaray in the 2000 UEFA Cup Final.

We have been there before people. If we are in the Europa League next season, it won’t be the first time. It won’t even be the first time under Arsene Wenger. So stop acting like it will be. Get behind your team for the rest of this season. Of course we want to be in the Champions League, but it’s not all doom and gloom if we are not. Plus we will have a much better chance of success in the Europa League than we will in the Champions League and we need a trophy. Much like the League Cup would do, the Europa League would provide a platform for Arsenal. It would get them into that winning habit once again. You have seen in recent years some teams come into the Champions League after winning the Europa League and doing well. Porto even won the Champions League a year after winning the UEFA Cup, so it really isn’t bad.

All I’m going to say is, if it was good enough for us before then it is good enough for us now. Yes there are fans that got so used to us winning and competing at the highest level, but you have to realise that almost every team suffers trophy droughts or rough times. I believe winning the Europa League could be the catalyst for success in Arsenal’s future. So IF we are in the Europa League (that ‘if’ works both ways – either finishing 4th and therefore being a CL team or finishing below 5th and no European football) then don’t be distraught. I’d rather be in it than have no European football at all. I genuinely would.

Arsenal could well be competing in the Europa League next season.