So it’s finally upon us.
After months of waiting, after bearing the brunt of numerous jokes from rival fans, Arsenal will get their Europa League campaign underway this week.
Cologne are the visitors to the Emirates on Thursday night as Arsene Wenger’s side line up in Europe’s second tier competition for the first time since they were beaten on penalties by Galatasaray in the UEFA Cup final in 2000.
Obviously Gunners fans will be looking on enviously as other Premier League sides are in Champions League action this week, but is Thursday night football really that bad?
Could it be that the Europa League will actually be a blessing for Arsenal this season? When you break it down, there are actually plenty of reasons to look forward to what’s to come.
Here are five reasons why Arsenal fans should be excited by this season’s European competition.
A real chance of a trophy
At the end of the day, there is nothing better than seeing your team lifting a trophy at the end of the season.
Yes, it’s all well and good being in the Champions League every year, but let’s face it – Arsenal have been a million miles away from winning that trophy for some time now.
So maybe dropping down to the Europa League for a season gives Arsene Wenger’s side more of a chance of actually getting their hands on some silverware.
They go into the tournament as favourites, but it has to be taken into account that it will not be the Arsenal first-team lining up in the competition, certainly not in the group stages anyway.
But even so, the tournament represents a real opportunity for Arsenal to add another trophy to their collection.
We get to see some of the young guns
Given the size of his squad, Wenger will still be able to field a team packed full of senior players and internationals, even if he chooses to rest some star names such as Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey.
But the Frenchman is still expected to give some of the club’s talented youngsters a chance to impress in the competition
The likes of Reiss Nelson, Joe Willock, Eddie Nketiah and Ainsley Maitland-Niles could all be given run-outs at some point during the tournament.
And there is nothing fans enjoy seeing more than a home grown star seizing an opportunity to impress. We’ve seen it in the Capital One Cup in recent years, now there is another tournament for Wenger to blood the youngsters.
This obviously links in with what was said above – but given the excitement surrounding Reiss Nelson he deserves his own section.
Fans are desperate to see more of the youngster, who has been banging on the door of the first team ever since the summer.
Nelson was the star of pre-season, he thrilled over in Australia and then stole the show at the Emirates Cup.
Since then he has scored six goals in four Premier League 2 games for the U23s and was named player of the month for August.
With each scintillating performance, the demand grows for Nelson to be involved – especially now Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has moved on.
And surely the Europa League gives Wenger the perfect opportunity to unleash the club’s most exciting young talent.
Some great away days
Having spent 20 years in the Champions League, there aren’t many clubs Arsenal haven’t met.
Trips to the likes of Munich, Dortmund and Olympiacos have become the norm – in fact, there are sometimes moans and groans when the Gunners are drawn against familiar opponents.
So trips to Belarus and Belgrade represent something new, something fresh for those Arsenal fans who will be heading abroad to follow their side.
Obviously they want to see their side back in the Champions League as quickly as possible, but while they are in the Europa League, they are certainly going to make sure they enjoy themselves.
Wilshere’s last chance
Everyone at Arsenal is desperate to see Jack Wilshere back to his best.
The midfielder has just one year left on his contract in north London and is very much in the last chance saloon.
If he wants to stay at Arsenal, he is going to have to prove he is still good enough and the Europa League could give him that opportunity.
The Cologne game could come to soon for him, but there are still five more group matches to come for the popular England international to stake his claim for a chance in the Premier League.
Are you looking forward to the Europa League. Let us know by leaving a comment below