Unai Emery’s mission is simple; go one better than his predecessor’s semi-final finish last season. Arsene Wenger’s remarkable sojourn with Arsenal in the Europa League last season was cut short by eventual winners, Atletico Madrid. The Frenchman didn’t have it easy with the Champions League’s red-faced step-sister.
Arsenal have never won this competition. The closest they came was in one of its predecessors, the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1970. In fact, the Gunners haven’t lifted any piece of continental silverware in a quarter of a century. Emery was brought on board to end that drought.
BATE v Arsenal: Europa League Match Preview
However, the Gunners have an advantage owing to BATE’s poor record. Alyaksey Baha’s men have played around 50 Europa League (including UEFA Cup) games and have lost more than half. They were beaten 3-1 at Stamford Bridge and 1-0 when Chelsea visited the Borisov Arena.
The Spaniard is a Europa League specialist. He achieved an unprecedented three successive titles from 2014 to 2016 at Sevilla. No manager has had it this good except a certain bareheaded Frenchman.
Emery has made a majestic return to Europe second-choice competition. Arsenal enjoyed a near-perfect run in the group phase. They topped Group E at a canter, dropping points once in a 0-0 home draw against Sporting as a string of reserves and young prospects got a look, most notably Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka.
Arsenal certainly have Champions League aspirations and winning Europe’s second-tier competition may just be their only route. Anything other than victory, however, may dent that prospect. BATE are no pushover, though, not with ex-Gunner Alexander Hleb still in his strides. Hleb, now 37, spent three years with Arsenal before jumping on the boat to Catalonia. His Barysaw team are the most successful in Belarus, clinching the respective domestic league 14 times, 12 in succession. Such remarkable achievement should not be taken for granted.
Are BATE a Tough Egg to Crack?
To get here, BATE finished second in Group L, seven points behind winners Chelsea. The Belarusians picked up nine points, with an equivalent number of goals scored and conceded. Nikolai Signevich is Baha’s goal threat. The forward notched three goals, two against PAOK and one against MOL Vidi. Arsenal showed no mercy when they faced them in last season’s group stage. Wenger’s men struck four times albeit shipping in two in Belarus. The North London side were ruthless in the corresponding fixture, with a six-star performance.
Arsenal will have to put aside their indifferent domestic form when they travel to Belarus. Emery must avoid the temptation of playing a second-string side due to fixture pile-up. In such a scenario, a shock may just be on the horizon. A slim one-goal victory is enough for BATE who will desperately try to avoid conceding at the Emirates.
All things being equal, however, Arsenal will have a smooth sail.