Unai Emery is somewhat of a Europa League specialist.
His Sevilla side had a stranglehold on the competition, and the glory nights when he held the trophy aloft were probably his greatest achievements so far.
His Sevilla team were skillful, but most importantly, attacked and defended as a unit, and as such, more illustrious opponents were felled by them.
Emery will no doubt be eyeing this season’s effort as a potential launchpad for his time at the club, but first things first, there’s a group to contend with and win.
Thursday night matches are just one thing to contend with, but there is the inevitable fixture congestion that comes with it. Our squad has been positively bolstered so should have the minerals to deal with it - but expect rotation.
So, what do we know of our Group opponents?
Sporting are going well this season, with three wins from four games thus far in the Primera Liga. Last season was a turbulent one for the club and with players threatening to go on revolt, the worry was the strength of their squad for this season.
They did lose a few, like Gelson, but they have the likes of Bas Dost, Nani, Battaglia in midfield and a certain ex-Gunner in keeper Emiliano Viviano. they will be our biggest test this season.
Last campaign saw them exit the competition at the Quarter-Final stage, to Atletico Madrid, the eventual winners. They are well equipped to at least match that stage this time around. They could cause us problems,
The Azerbaijani side are regulars of this competition, and the away leg could be a toughie if we heavily rotate, but we should have more than enough to take maximum points from this side.
A win and a draw from their two games this season leaves them in midtable, but it is their Champions League qualifiers that give us a better indicator of what we face.
They lost out in the final qualifier to BATE Borisov of Belarus, 2-1 on aggregate. I can see this being a potential slip on our away trip.
Somewhat of an unknown, Vorskla will be our first opponents in this seasons Europa League.
The Ukrainians are a far lesser light than their illustrious compatriots Shakhtar Donetsk and Dynamo Kyiv, and they have recently lost to both in the Ukrainian domestic league. Vorskla currently sit 7th, with 3 wins and 4 defeats from their 7 games.
Decidedly average it seems, but a false sense of security is always dangerous. Of course, we should win both games, but they really are the unknown, so it’s very hard to predict how this will pan out.
The group is their for the taking, but it will all hinge on our games with rivals Sporting.
Emery will need all of his Europa League magic to escape unscathed and match where we got to last season. To get one better? We need a bit of luck with the draw.