We’re finally here. The last group game of the Europa League. Tonight sees us welcome BATE Borisov to The Emirates in what is a dead-rubber for us.
We’ve already qualified at the top of the group, currently four points above second with a game to go on 10 points, so we’re very much just going through proceedings tonight.
However, as we found out in the last matchday against Cologne, we shouldn’t rest on our laurels despite finishing top of the group. BATE, who are on five points, still have the chance to qualify in 2nd place for the knockout stages if the groups’ other match ends in a draw.
With this in mind you can only imagine that they’ll be coming to North London with one objective, to get three points.
In the Europa League this year we’ve seen Arsene Wenger opt for a mix of youth and experience in his matchday squads and tonight seems like no different. When asked if the squad will differ tonight because we’ve won the group, he said:
“Not too much because I have many players who need competition because next week we go into three weeks with three games a week. Tomorrow we’ll play quite an experienced team.”
Having never put out a full-strength team in the competition yet, that really says something about the strength in depth Arsenal have for this competition. On the players that step in for Europa League games, Wenger said:
“They have been absolutely outstanding, one positive of the season is the behaviour of the squad is remarkable. We have a quality squad all the way around and there’s no coincidence we qualified.”
One player who has been a constant in the Europa League, although not in his most familiar position, is Ainsley Matiland-Niles who spoke about the experience this season:
“I’ve gained vital experience playing in this competition with top players, playing against difficult opposition so I’ve got the boss to thank for that.”
Maitland-Niles isn’t the only youngster that has been featured in many of our group games though, and with a few players like Eddie Nketiah, Ben Sheaf and Matt Macey signing new contracts this week, its all looking promising for the next generation of Arsenal players.
Looking a bit further forward though, with teams like Dortmund, Napoli and other strong teams dropping into the Europa League, our knockout path may be a bit harder than we first imagined.
On allowing teams to enter the Europa League after being knocked out of the Champions League, Wenger said:
“That’s always been the case, we’ve voted against it in Geneva many times, but you have to respect democracy. The majority have voted for the Champions League teams to drop into the Europa League.”
But at least we don’t have to think about that for a few months, tonight’s about BATE and finishing the group in a good manner.