Arsenal: How early Europa League exit could be a benefit

Arsenal, Mikel Arteta (Photo by Tim Goode/Pool via Getty Images)
Arsenal, Mikel Arteta (Photo by Tim Goode/Pool via Getty Images) /

Mikel Arteta still has not had a preseason to work with his Arsenal players. Perhaps, then, the early exit from the Europa League could yet be a benefit.

Mikel Arteta has made great progress as Arsenal head coach. From the moment he arrived at the club in late December, he has consistently proven that he is the right man to take the team forward into the rebuilding process. But that does not mean he — and his tenure, by extension — has been perfect. There have, of course, been bumps in the road.

The most prominent of these came in the Europa League Round of 32 stage. After defeating Olympiakos 1-0 in the first leg, taking a one-goal lead and away goal back to the Emirates, Arsenal proceeded to produce one of their worst performances of the Arteta era to date, falling to the Greeks on away goals after extra-time.

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Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang missed a host of gimme chances, David Luiz went walkabout in the heart of the defence, and Arteta made some curious substitutions, eventually ending up with a gassed Nicolas Pepe playing right wing-back. To put it plainly, it was a mess.

However, while that evening was a disastrous one and essentially ended the Gunners’ chances of reclaiming their Champions League status with their position in the league not offering a platform to do so in the closing months of the campaign, there may now be a silver lining.

Following the coronavirus-enforced delay, the Europa League and Champions League will be played during August, with the finals played on August 21st and 23rd respectively. It means that those competing in the competitions still have another month of competitive play before the end of the season.

The packed fixture list does not end there, however. On Friday, the FA announced that the new English football season will commence on September 12th, just three weeks after the end of the respective European campaigns. Even Arsenal, whose last match is the FA Cup final on August 2nd, have just a little over a month to prepare for the new season.

The schedule is further compacted due to the inclusion of the nations league from September 4th to 9th. Three days later, the new season will begin. Of course, football is having to adapt to COVID-19. The sport is attempting to recoup as much of the lost income as possible. That is why such a contorted fixture list has been compiled, but for many clubs, it eradicates the chance to have a preseason.

Arteta, you would think, will hand his players a few weeks of holiday immediately following the end of the season. But by mid-August, expect to see them back on the training ground working towards the new season. It will be a mini-preseason of sorts, his first as Arsenal head coach.

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If Arteta could choose, he would much rather be in the Europa League and in with a chance of securing Champions League football. But while that disastrous defeat to Olympiakos was shattering for the team’s prospects, there is a silver lining. It might just allow Arsenal to better prepare for the season ahead, and that is no bad thing.