If Arsenal wants to join fellow Premier League clubs Wolverhampton Wanderers and Manchester United in the knockout stage of the Europa League in the next round they still have some work ahead of them in this week’s final matchday of the competition.
Given their recent results, fans will take some comfort that the Gunners travel to Belgium for their game against Standard Liege needing ‘only’ to avoid a three-goal defeat.
The last time the London-based club won was at the end of October in the Europa League when they beat Vitória de Guimarães 3-2 in their Group F game.
Since then, they have played nine games without a win, drawing six and losing three.
Defeat at home in their last Europa League match against Eintracht Frankfurt saw coach Unai Emery being replaced by Arsenal legend Freddie Ljungberg, who took over on an interim basis.
A draw at struggling Norwich and a home defeat against Brighton showed that the Swede is no quick-fix solution, but for Arsenal not to go through would need a bit of a footballing miracle.
Manchester United, on the other hand, go into their Group L game at Old Trafford on a roll. Although they lost their last game in the competition at Astana, they had already qualified for the next round, giving Ole Gunnar Solskjær the chance to ring in the changes.
His second string side went down 2-1 but then went on to beat Tottenham Hotspur at home and followed that up with an even better result with a 2-1 win at Manchester City on the weekend.
The Norwegian manager is bound to turn to his reserves again as they take on AZ Alkmaar, who have also already gone through.
Solskjær is happy with the way things have been going in the Europa League. “For me, it’s been good to give young kids a chance, good to see players, that have got more experience, play games because they need games. We’ve kept four clean sheets and that’s impressive.
“Any competition you can get your hands on, you take. We’ve started really well and we want to get all the way to Gdansk (where the final will be played on May 27).”
Also through are Wolves, who are a point behind Braga in Group K, but are six ahead of the third-placed Slovan Bratislava. Nuno Espirito Santo’s side take on Beşiktaş in their final group game.
Africa’s leading digital TV operator, StarTimes, has secured the exclusive rights to the Europa League and will show the top matches live on the StarTimes football channels.
Peter Auf der Heyde
Peter Auf der Heyde is an award-winning football journalist and author, who covers the big European leagues. As a South African by birth, he is particularly interested in the African connection within European football and has covered 12 consecutive Africa Cup of Nations tournaments live. Formerly head of sport at the English service of the German Press Association, he is one of the leading Bundesliga experts.
Auf der Heyde played professionally for Bosmont Chelsea in the South African top-flight and now spends his time migrating between South Africa, Germany and the UK.