Arsenal coasted into the knockout stages of the Europa League On Thursday night. In reality, the Gunners were a cut above the teams in their group. Arsene Wenger could afford to field weakened teams full of fringe and young players,
The fringe players were good enough to negotiate games against the likes of Koln, Red Star Belgrade and BATE Borisov. The likes of Theo Walcott, Olivier Giroud and Jack Wilshere have impressed in the group stages.
Tougher challenges ahead
This seasons Europa League was not the best quality wise. However, there are tougher challenges ahead. The first knockout stage may not prove too difficult, as the Gunners topped their group, so will play a second-place team from another group.
The draw could be very kind to Arsenal. As there are many teams in the unseeded section of the draw that the Gunners should beat quite comfortably. However, a few of the teams that have dropped out of the Champions League are in the unseeded section.
The likes of Dortmund and Napoli are two prime examples. While Dortmund in terrible form at the minute, they still have quality players in their ranks and could turn things around very quickly.
Up until last weekend, Napoli were top of Serie A and unbeaten in the league, so the team from Naples would prove far tougher opposition than the teams the Gunners have faced before.
Selection will depend on the opponents
All the teams that Arsenal have faced in the Europa League so far this season have been pretty poor. Arsene Wenger has treated the competition as he does the League Cup, as previously mentioned fielding weakened teams.
The Europa League is far from the priority for Arsenal this season. However, as the Gunners get closer to winning it I am sure Wenger will pick stronger teams. I am also sure that Wenger is likely to pick his first choice players if the Gunners draw a Napoli or a Dortmund in the first knockout stages.
Second favourites to win the trophy
Only Champions League dropouts Atletico Madrid are shorter odds than Arsenal 6/1 to win the Europa League this season. As the competition gets more serious, I suspect that everybody at the club will take it a lot more seriously.
Arsenal have a golden opportunity in this seasons competition, as there are very few sides that the Gunners should fear in this competition, especially at full strength.
Should Arsenal field first-team stars in the Europa League?