When the Europa League groups were drawn most people would have expected both Arsenal and Chelsea to cruise at this stage of the competition. Today’s fixtures will have gone some way in proving exactly why people were right to think that. Both teams are still unbeaten, Chelsea earning maximum points and Arsenal winning 4 out of a possible 5.
Despite playing weakened teams with a number of young, fringe players, tonight’s matches couldn’t have been much easier for the London clubs. The likes of Hudson-Odoi featured for Chelsea with Smith-Rowe and Willock playing for Arsenal, all of which scored for their respective clubs. Wins for Arsenal and Chelsea cemented both sides positions at the top of their groups.
Chelsea’s fixture at home to PAOK was never going be to be one that grabbed the attention of the footballing world, especially with The home side already topping the group before the game. However, you have to give it to them for the way they attempted to make the match as entertaining as possible. PAOK already had a huge task on their hands which was only made all the more difficult when they were reduced to 10 men just 7 minutes after kick-off. Unsurprisingly therefore, Chelsea came away from the match as 4-0 winners.
Similarly for Arsenal, debate prior to the match will not really have been whether or not they would win, rather how great a margin they would win by. Yet, there was also some discussion aside from what might happen on the pitch. It was deemed to great a risk for both players and travelling fans to play the fixture in Poltava, the original venue, due to political tensions. There was seemingly some possibility of the match being cancelled or postponed entirely before an ideal solution was found. The fixture was moved to Kiev in the stadium which held last year’s Champions League final between Real Madrid and Liverpool. Despite this fixture still being classed as a ‘home’ match for Poltava, the environment, playing in a stadium which can hold over 70,000 spectators, is perhaps more alien to the Ukrainian side than it might be for Arsenal, who play in stadiums of a similar capacity fairly frequently in the Premier League. Regardless, Arsenal were always going to be strong favourites in this match and you can see why. They were 0-3 winners and will be going through to the knockout stage of the competition.
Aside from the teams who finish 3rd in their Champions League groups thus qualifying them for the knockouts of the less prestigious Europa League, Arsenal and Chelsea have to be considered two of the top competitors to go on and win this tournament. They have completely dominated their groups and their can’t be many teams capable of outscoring them across two legs. This and the fact that there’s a great chance of both Spurs and Liverpool finishing third in their Champions League groups means there’s a real possibility that this seasons Europa League could be on its way back to England. Whether this is a good thing for English football, I’m not sure. Top Premier League sides will want to dominate both domestically and in Europe. Exiting the Champions League at its earliest stage to then win a few knockout matches against less much worse opposition isn’t exactly doing that. But yes, a trophy is a trophy, I suppose.