It’s been nearly a quarter of a century since Arsenal won a European trophy, Alan Smith, Parma, all that. There was some serious talent on display in Copenhagen that night of the 1994 Cup Winners Cup final: Smith, Paul Merson, Tony Adams, Lee Dixon, Nigel Winterburn, David Seaman, Thomas Brolin, Faustino Asprilla, Roberto Sensini, Gianfranco Zola. Ian Wright missed out through suspension. God I feel old. What point was I trying to make? Ah yes.
They’ve had some near scrapes with triumph since. The 2006 Champions League final against Barcelona, principally, and the 2000 final of this competition’s predecessor, the Uefa Cup, against Galatasaray. But poor old Arsene Wenger was destined never to win a cup on the continent. For a wee while earlier this year, the fairytale swansong was on. But Atletico Madrid had too much savvy in the semis, and that was that.
Wenger’s successor, however, is a man who knows exactly how to go about the Europa League. Unai Emery has won it three times with Sevilla; only Giovanni Trapattoni can claim a similar haul in Europe’s secondary competition. So could this be the start of something special? Well, there’s a long way to go, of course. About 100 games of Uefa’s bloated format if memory serves. But a fast start tonight will get folk dreaming of glory.
And there’s a fair chance of that. Tonight’s opponents Vorskla Poltava will be no pushovers, qualifying after finishing third in Ukraine last season. But the Gunners have a fine home record against teams from Ukraine: two wins over Shakhtar Donetsk, two wins over Dynamo Kyiv, and a draw against Kyiv during a campaign which saw Valeriy Lobanovskyi’s side make it to the semis of the Champions League. It all augurs well.
So will Emery lead Arsenal to their first European pot since 1994, and his fourth Europa League overall? The quest begins here. It’s Group E of the 2018-19 Europa League! It’s Matchday 1! It’s on!
Kick off: 8pm BST.