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English clubs should see the Europa League for what it is: A major European trophy

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81,000 packed Wembley on Wednesday night to watch Tottenham outplay the reigning European Champions Real Madrid.

From the moment the illustrious Champions League anthem rose through the Stadiums PA system, supporters around the globe sensed they were about to witness a classic European Cup match.

The next day, nine miles down the road, Arsenal also had a European fixture.

A win against 1991 European Cup winners Red Star Belgrade would guarantee the Gunners a place in the knockout stages of the Europa League. Unlike Wembley however, the Emirates seemed silent and empty, Arsenal were lethargic and disinterested. As their north London rivals announced themselves to the footballing world, Arsenal lacked imagination, creativity and, most worryingly, any sort of motivation.

And this may serve as the perfect metaphor for attitudes towards the Europa League. In the Champions League, the creme de la creme of trophies, where the best in Europe compete, four out of the five English clubs taking part sit at the top of their respective groups.

Manchester United and Manchester City maintain 100% win records, Tottenham have defeated Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund, Chelsea were victorious over Atletico Madrid, and Liverpool recently recorded a 7-0 away win over NK Maribor the largest away victory for an English side.

But in UEFA’s second-tier competition, Arsenal appear nonchalant and apathetic and Everton sit bottom of their group unable to gather victories against the team's 10th in Serie A, 3rd in Ligue 1 and 5th in the Cyprus first division.

The outlook towards the Champions League is one of optimism, the road to the final is celebrated as a biblical quest towards eternal glory, with each new victory fans create further memories and anecdotes. Tottenham fans will now recall exactly what they were doing when their side defeated Real 3-1, just as United fans reflect upon their 7-1 thrashing over Roma in 2007 and Chelsea fans remember overcoming Barcelona in the 2012 semi-finals.

The Europa League journey, however, is presented as nothing more than a burden to Premier League clubs. The Thursday-Sunday fixture schedule is seen as disruptive and the last two English finalists, Liverpool in 2016 and Manchester United a year later, seemingly had to abandon their league form in order to solely concentrate on the tournament, finishing 8th and 6th in the Premier League respectively.    

But in years to come, a slightly higher league position will be forgotten in comparison to a victory in a European final. English clubs should see the Europa League for what it is. A major European trophy.

In England and Wales, since 1874, 144 clubs have played professionally for at least one season. Of those 144 only 59 clubs have lifted a major trophy, and only 14 have lifted a European one.

An international trophy is a rarity and should be the pinnacle of most players careers, instead, the Europa League is depicted as trivial highlighting a snobbish attitude from Premier League’s elite.

Teams below Arsenal and Everton envy their European involvement; very few supporters of teams outside of the Premier League’s top eight will be sympathetic towards the “hardship” of a Europa League campaign and the possibility of a further 15 televised matches.  

Instead, sides should embrace the competition. Manchester United’s success in 2016/17 changed a mediocre campaign into a successful season by pursuing the only major trophy the club had failed to win. Ask any Middlesbrough or Fulham fan for their greatest footballing memory and most would recall moments from their teams runs to the Uefa Cup final in 2006 and 2010 respectively. In Spain, Sevilla has put themselves on the footballing map by winning the tournament three times in the last four years.

After spending over £150 million Everton should have targeted the Europa League as a chance to add to their only other European trophy, the 1985 Cup Winners’ Cup. Instead, the toffees were eliminated after just four group matches. Arsenal are still in the tournament and Arsène Wenger should view the competition as an opportunity to redeem his two previous defeats in European finals, (the Champions League to Barcelona in 2006 and an agonising penalty shootout defeat in the Uefa Cup to Galatasaray in 2000).

The current Arsenal side are undoubtedly capable of Europa League glory; victory simply depends on whether Arsenal as a club have the right attitude and give the Europa League the respect it deserves.

Image Credit - Wikipedia Commons

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