As with all discussions of elite athlete travel, let’s start by stipulating that, at the Premier League level, players aren’t flying like us normal people. They fly chartered flights, with nobody on the plane who is not part of Arsenal, that leave when the team says they leave, all their bags are taken care of by other people, they don’t have to wait in security lines, and it’s just a generally better way to fly than getting to the airport two hours early, stripping down to your boxers, and then paying $15 for a drink while you wait for your middle seat.
All that said, though, the physical act of traveling is not easy on the body, especially for athletes. Recovery time is important after 90 minutes of max effort, and if a big chunk of that time is spent sitting in an airplane seat, no matter how nice the seat, that will take a toll over time. In England, that’s not a huge worry, because when teams do fly to matches, most flights are pretty short; the flight to Newcastle is 250 miles, and takes about an hour.
The Europa League is a different travel monster altogether. The Champions League is a lot of teams from western and central Europe, so the travel isn’t terrible, but the Europa League casts a much wider net, and with the games being Thursday nights, the recovery time before a Sunday league game is mercilessly short. This was Arsenal’s travel burden last season:
- Sporting: Lisbon, 1,944 miles round trip
- Qarabag: Baku, 4,960 miles RT(done twice)
- Vorskla Poltava: Poltava, Ukraine, 3,544 miles RT
That’s a lot of miles, particularly with the aforementioned short league turnaround. This year, though, is a much different, and much better, travel story:
This year, Arsenal will be flying 2,258 round trip miles combined during the group stage, which is fewer miles than two of their individual trips last year. I can’t sit here and say that will definitively give Arsenal an advantage in the Premier League, but it can’t help but help. Fatigue is a real thing, bodily wear and tear is a real thing, and minimizing that as much as possible by not having punishing 2,500 mile flights followed by a game two days later is very much a good thing for Arsenal’s league campaign this season.