The long and dreadful wait is over, folks. This morning, UEFA held the 2020-21 Europa League group stage draw while Arsenal fans across the world waited on bated breath to find out which team they have never heard of would be matched up against the Gunners.
Placed in Group B, Arsenal have a who’s-who of teams that I’ve only ever heard of while playing FIFA, including Rapid Vienna, Dundalk, and the excellently-named Molde.
The #UELdraw has now been completed!— Arsenal (@Arsenal) October 2, 2020
Here's who we'll be facing in this season's group stage...
The first takeaway is that Arsenal are fortunate to not be facing any of the stronger teams from Europe in the group stage. While the Europa League is not exactly stacked, it’s still nice to know that Arsenal will not have to face the likes of AC Milan or Napoli so early in the competition. Not only do Arsenal avoid any early match-ups against bigger squads, they actually have never faced any of these teams before in any competition. So, that’s kind of neat.
Another takeaway from this draw is that Arsenal’s travel schedule will be rather light and navigable. Compared to years past, these will be relatively quick jaunts, as the Gunners avoided any lengthy trips to the East of Europe. According to a hasty Google Maps inquest, it is roughly 2.25 hours to Vienna, Austria by plane, an hour to Dublin and an hour bus ride to Dundalk, Ireland, and 4.5 hours by plane to Molde, Norway.
If any of these trips have the potential to be problematic, it will be playing in Molde, which is located on the mid-western coast of Norway. I can’t imagine that a match in Norway in the fall will be anything resembling pleasant, but I’m also a Floridian, so anything south of 45 degrees Fahrenheit is considered inhuman.
Rapid Vienna hails from the Austrian Bundesliga, where they are currently 2nd in the table. They have won the Austrian championship 32 times in their history, but most of those titles occurred before the advent of the color television.
Dundalk play in the Irish Premier League, and are currently 5th in the table. They have enjoyed some notable success in recent years, having won the league championship four times in the past six seasons. They find themselves in the Europa League having lost in the qualifying rounds of the 2020-2021 Champions League.
Molde FK is currently most well-known for being where current Manchester United skipper Ole Gunnar Solskjaer held his previous managerial position before becoming the Red Devils’ manager. Currently 4th in Norway’s Eliteserien, they have won the championship four times over the last decade, most recently in 2019.
I have very little knowledge of these teams from a tactical or personnel standpoint, but I think it is safe to say that Arsenal have no reason not running through this group. This isn’t said out of cockiness, but out of the expectation that Arsenal should take care of business against these sides early enough to not have to lean on major players to secure a victory. With the progress Mikel Arteta has made, he needs to get his team to play up to their ability and not let off against their competitors.
Here is how the rest of the group stage selections played out:
At the end of the day, Arsenal got a very favorable draw and have no reason to not finish top of their group with their second team players. Stay posted for fixture dates to come.