The Europa League begins its next round in a few days, so we will be highlighting the matchups featuring either clubs with a chance to win it all or match-ups that could see either team pull out a victory and move on to the Round of 16.
While Europa League is not packed with the big names of the Champions League, there are still some high quality clubs playing for the title, and with it, an automatic berth in the Group Stage of next season’s Champions League.
How They Got Here
BATE Borisov qualified for European competition by winning the Belarusian Premier League last season, advancing to the second qualifying round of the Champions League based on winning the head-to-head tiebreaker against Dinamo Minsk. It made it’s way through Champions League qualification, defeating HJK Helsinki in the second qualifying round and Qarabağ in the third qualifying round. Their stay in the Champions League came to an end with a loss to PSV Eindhoven in the play-off round, which bounced them over to the Europa League Group Stage, where they finished second in Group L behind Chelsea.
Arsenal’s journey to the Europa League Round of 32 was a little more straightforward. They qualified directly for the Group Stage as the 6th place finisher in the English Premier League last season. They did not lose during group play, winning Group E with a 5-1-0 record ahead of Sporting CP.
BATE Borisov has already completed their domestic season (the Belarusian Premier League runs from March to December), so they are preparing for the upcoming 2019 season. However, they have already qualified for the 2019-20 Champions League after winning the league title for the 13th cosecutive season (and 15th overall), this time by nine points over second place finisher Shakhtyor Soligorsk. This has placed them in the first qualifying round in next season’s Champions League, though they can earn automatic placement in the Group Stage should they overcome long odds (more on this in a minute) to win Europa League.
Arsenal is currently in 4th place in the current Premier League season, and should they finish there, they would automatically qualify for the Champions League Group Stage next year. However, they are only in that position based on goal differential, with Chelsea nipping at their heels with the same 47 points, and Manchester United only trailing both clubs by two points. Arsenal has also been eliminated from both English domestic cups this season, so their only hope for European competition is placement in the league.
Never Tell Me the Odds
Entering the first match of two in the Round of 32, Aresenal is the prohibitive favorite to advance to the Round of 16, with FiveThirtyEight giving the Gunners an 84% chance of doing so. Arsenal is also among the favorites to win the entire competition outright, with 14% chance of advancing to the final in Baku, Azerbaijan in May and a 7% chance of winning the entire thing.
However, despite not being given much chance to advance beyond the Round of 16 (BATE has only a 4% chance of making it the quarterfinals), they could turn those odds around with a strong performance in the first match this week. Perhaps not as favorable for them this week is that they had more success on the road during the Group Stage (2-0-1) than at home (1-0-2), and they lost to Arsenal’s EPL mate Chelsea twice (by a combined score of 4-1).
I’d anticipate an Arsenal win both on Thursday and next week, but there is a reason why they actually play the matches, and maybe the travel to Belarus will hamper the English club’s performance a bit. We’ll know for sure after Thursday and will keep you posted on this and other Europa League matches as they unfold over the next two weeks.
Until next time…