With the 2020/21 Premier League season now beyond the half way mark, Arsenal’s domestic campaign is shaping up to be nothing less than disastrous. At the time of writing, the London club sit eleventh in the Premier League- with each of the teams around us holding games in hand. Were our opponents to take advantage of their fixtures, we could potentially be sat in 12th place.
Not only are we in a bad position, but our upcoming fixtures do not seem to be cutting us any sort of slack. Our next seven league games run as followed: Leeds United (H), Manchester City (H), Leicester City (A), Burnley (A), Spurs (H), West Ham (A) and Liverpool (H). With the way the team have performed, especially in our last game, we could be on course to pick up very few of the 21 points available.
Whilst the fixtures are tough and making anything of the domestic season seems unlikely, if this campaign has proven anything, it is that football is unpredictable. If we are able to rekindle the form we had entering the new year and throughout January, get a run of wins under our belt and defeat some of our competitors, the season could be far from dormant. Chelsea, who currently sit fifth in the table, are just eight points ahead of us- with the same number of games played. Granted- top four is certainly out of the question, but the hope that we can gain a spot within the top 7 for Europa League football is far from lost. We are certainly not in a good position and if we cannot regain form then we might as well wave goodbye to European football for the following season, but whilst their is a chance to recover something from this rollercoaster that is 2020/21- we should try our very best to do so.
The other option to obtain European football at the Emirates next season would be the Europa League. After crashing out of the Carabao and FA Cup, the Europa League is the only knockout competition Arsenal remain to be in. With an approaching Round of 32 encounter against Benfica next Thursday, Mikel Arteta will have to make a clear judgement on how highly he prizes this competition, and will reflect that in the strength of his lineups in these games. This, naturally, raises the obvious question: Should Arsenal give up domestic hopes, and throw everything at the Europa League?
While I do think it is utterly unreasonable to completely focus on one competition and discard the other, it would be my preference to highly value the Europa League for the remainder of the season. In the past three years, we have reached the semi-finals, final, and then crashed out in the round of 16- but this could finally be the year we win the competition. Not only would this secure silverware for the club, but it would offer us a place in the Champions League next season- something Arsenal fans have been desperate for since we last played in Europe’s best competition some years ago. Of the sides remaining in the draw, Arsenal are one of the best- with the likes of Manchester United, Tottenham, AC Milan and Bayer Leverkusen among other strong teams still standing. However, the Europa League comes with its own risks. Only one team can win and therefore, with strong competitors still in the running, there is only a slim chance we come out victorious. If the draw can fall in our favour and we can avoid the really hard fixtures for as long as possible, we are most definitely one of the front runners for this competition.
Overall, whilst it is key that we take each game at a time and do not lose focus on either competition, I think we should at least have a very firm clasp on the Europa League. I genuinely think we can win this competition if we play our best lineups, and see off some of the other front runners. For that reason, I want to see Mikel Arteta field some of the strongest lineups we possibly can in the Europa League- whilst being realistic that we have to try to make something of our Premier League campaign. Starting against Benfica, I hope we set up with the likes of Saka, Aubameyang, Xhaka and Martinelli in the team. We should do everything we can to keep our European chances as open as possible.
To be clear, the true answer to the question I posed as the title of this piece is no. It is not even slightly reasonable to completely neglect one competition in spite of the other. We should do our best to maintain good performances in both and take each game as it approaches, but when it comes boils down to the business end of the season- where fixture lists are even more packed and breaks between games become less and less… it is the Europa League that I think presents the best chance to make a success of the 2020/21 Arsenal season.