ON Thursday night, Arsenal can go five points clear in their Europa League group with victory at Red Star Belgrade.
A win will put the Gunners in pole position to qualify from Group H with three games still to play.
Meanwhile, with just eight Premier League games gone, the north London club are already nine points behind pacesetters Manchester City, who have started in stunning fashion. As have Manchester United.
With that in mind, our friends at Football Whispers ask whether it’s already time for Arsenal to concentrate on winning the Europa League this season.
At the start of the summer, Arsene Wenger’s aim for the season would have been to finish in the top four after missing out last term.
Finishing in the Premier League’s top three puts you straight into the Champions League group stage, whereas if you finish fourth you still have to go through the qualification stage.
Rather than chase the prize of fourth, which is far from a guarantee of Champions League football, it could be time for Arsenal to switch their concentration to the Europa League and take it more seriously than they have at the beginning of the campaign.
United boss Jose Mourinho prioritised winning the Europa League last season once it was apparent the top four were out of reach. And United’s final victory over Ajax saw them clinch a spot in this season’s group stage.
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That’s a much better prize than finishing in fourth, and arguably easier than battling with United, City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs for third spot.
Arsenal’s biggest obstacle would come when the eight clubs who finish third in their Champions League group drop down into the Europa League.
That would bring some tough opposition, with Borussia Dortmund, Napoli and Sevilla the trickiest and most likely sides to enter at the round of 32.
Already in the competition are Marseille, Lyon, Zenit St. Petersburg and AC Milan. All good and difficult opponents in their own right, but no one that the Gunners should fear.
Arsenal have 12 years of consistent appearances in the Champions League and, if anything, they are the club to be feared in this competition.
However, if Arsenal had qualified for Europe’s elite competition, they would have fancied themselves to finish in the top most of the eight groups, or at least fight for that spot, so they shouldn’t fear any club that enters the Europa League.
They have a squad good enough to compete and record signing Alexandre Lacazette more than proved with Lyon – getting them to the semi-final last year – that he is good enough to score goals at this level.
With Manchester City transfer target Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and more, Wenger’s side should be one most will hope to avoid in the knock-out stages.
Once through the group stage of the Europa League, you are only nine games away from winning the trophy and qualifying for next season’s Champions League.
You don’t even have to win them all, just make sure you come out on top over both legs.
If Arsenal are to improve their squad next summer, having Champions League football to lure potential signings will be vital.
The Premier League is no longer enough, especially with six strong teams looking to finish in the top three. To go into next summer’s negotiations, knowing you have that group spot already locked down, would go a long way of convincing a higher calibre player to sign at the Emirates.
Rather than chase a difficult goal over a long season, the odds fall much more favourably if the Gunners were to put all their eggs in the Europa League basket and make winning it a priority.