08 March 2023

Arsenal are RUN-AWAY favorites to win the Europa League!


Click to expand. Or don't.
After years of being a veritable meme of a club for whom a fourth-place Prem spot was a "trophy" we are now the odds-on favourites to win not only the Prem, but apparently the Europa League as well (not that any of use believe any of this for a second. In most of our minds, winning either one seems like a far-flung fantasy believed by only the feverish few). Well, count FiveThirtyEight among the feverish, for they've made us the odds-on favourites to win it all. 

Of course, a statistical regression analysis is only good for making prophecies, not fulfilling them. We do have after all a tricksy opponent in Sporting CP to contend with, and they may prioritise this competition given that they have little chance of closing the 15 point-gap to Benfica in the Primeira Liga. It's with that in mind that we can thank Bournemouth, whom we may have underestimated and who very nearly completed the smash-and-grab. There will be little risk of us underestimating anyone after that. What's more, the inspirational boost that we'll derive from fighting back to win in such dramatic fashion will surely carry over into subsequent matches...which includes none other than Sporting.

At a risk of contradicting the entire paragraph that I just wrote (and that, presumably, you just read), let's look at what FiveThirtyEight are saying. According to that chart, we have a 24% chance of winning the whole thing, almost double Man U's 13%. Whether these numbers might change as a result of Man U's evisceration at the hands (well, feet...) of Liverpool is an open question. A possibly more-pertinent question is "how will Man U react to humiliation?" They have precious little time to shake off the throbbing collective headache they've suffered before facing Real Betis on Thursday. Betis sit fifth in La Liga, which would seem to make them tougher opponents than Sporting, who sit fourth in the Primeira Liga.

Assuming the two of us advance to the quarterfinals, the draw will tell us a lot more than FiveThirtyEight's chart does. Maybe we'll draw Ferencváros while Man U draw, say, Leverkusen (just kidding. That's impossible. Just checking to see if you're paying attention). We draw Union SG and Man U get Leverkusen. It's unlikely that the draw will favour us quite that much, but bear with me here. We'd be offered an easy path to the semifinal while one of Man U or Leverkusen knocks the other out, clearing the path of one of the tougher teams left in the competition. At some point, of course, we'd have to come up against tougher competition, but there's nothing wrong with pondering the possibilities.

Speaking of possibilities, we may also find ourselves having to navigate Scylla and Charybdis. We arguably don't have to the squad depth or margin for error to defend our narrow lead in the Prem while also chasing Europa League glory. Domestically, we have a tough challenge this coming weekend at Craven Cottage, and there are still trips to Anfield (9 April), the Etihad (26 April), and St. James' Park (6 May to consider. Europa League quarterfinals are scheduled for 13 and 20 April. If we advanced, our match against Southampton on 21 April would have to move. Semifinals are 11 May and 18 May, possibly affecting our matches against Brighton and Nottingham Forest. Between now and then, though, we may very well know who's won the Prem, for better or for worse.

Yes, key players are making their way back. Smith-Rowe put in a decent shift before having to come off. Jesus is weeks away from his return. Knocks to Trossard and Nketiah look light, and the explosive display from Nelson suggest we have at least one more option in attack. Can we hold it all together well enough to prove the preseason prognosticators wrong, at least on one front if not both? We'll cross the bridge when we come to it. First step: Sporting CP.

One last note before we part ways: I invite you to join "March Merch", a little competition in which the most-frequent commenters this month will be entered in a raffle for a chance to win a £25 gift card at Arsenal Direct. I'm loving the traffic the site is getting but will admit I'd love even more to see more craic in the comments.

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