Arsenal’s main challengers for the Europa League this season

The Europa League is starting to get interesting as the group stages approach a conclusion. Callum Rice-Coates looks at the competition's potential favourites.

The Europa League is beginning to hot up with a number of sides having secured their qualification from the group stages into the much-anticipated Round of 32.

It’s often a difficult competition to predict, due partly to the vast number of clubs that take part in the early stages and, of course, the introduction of teams unsuccessful in the Champions League from the second round.

There are, however, a group of teams that have emerged as considerably superior to their opposition, and that will perhaps ultimately go on to lift the trophy. 

Here are four potential winners of the Europa League.

  1. 1 Arsenal

    Arsenal have strolled almost nonchalantly into the last 32 with two games to spare. Arsene Wenger's rotation policy has not backfired but has, in fact, worked almost perfectly.

    The Gunners have been able to offer invaluable game time to promising youngsters such as Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Reiss Nelson and Joe Willock while maintaining the match fitness of players on the fringes: Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott, et al.

    Admittedly, Group H is not the strongest in the Europa League. Red Star Belgrade offered Arsenal more of a challenge but BATE Borisov and Koln were dispatched with relative ease.

    The latter stages will undoubtedly prove decidedly more difficult but Arsenal must be considered amongst the favourites to win the title. The strength and depth of their squad is matched by very few clubs in the competition. 

  2. 2 Lazio

    Lazio are playing with a swagger and confidence, led by a tactically astute coach being tipped as a potential replacement for Massimiliano Allegri at Juventus.

    Simone Inzaghi's Lazio renaissance appears to have reached its zenith. The Rome-based side are fourth in Serie A having won six successive league games and have been equally impressive in the Europa League.

    At this point, they boast the only 100% record in the group stages, swatting aside Nice, Zulte Waregem and Vitesse, with only Zenit and Real Sociedad having scored more goals in the group stages so far.

    Few would have backed the Biancocelesti prior to the competition's start. Since then, though, they have beaten Juventus twice, made an excellent start to the domestic season and embarked on an imperious unbeaten run. Lazio are a real threat.

  3. 3 Lyon

    Lyon are one of a plethora of clubs who might consider themselves potential winners of the Europa League. AC Milan, Zenit and Villarreal are all yet to lose and will have aspirations of success.

    But the French club get the edge given their increasingly impressive form and their propensity for fluid, attacking football. Bruno Genesio's side are prolific in Ligue 1 - less so in Europe but they have started to show signs of their offensive prowess - and boast a squad of talented players.

    Lyon saw off Everton with a 3-0 win last week, a demonstration, particularly in the second-half, of what they can do when in full flow.

    They are by no means polished, not the finished article. But the form of Nabil Fekir - who has scored 11 goals in 16 appearances so far this season - and the re-emergence of Memphis Depay could help them challenge. 

  4. 4 Champions League dropouts

    The quality of the teams dropping into the Europa League from the Champions League this season could be something of an anomaly.

    It's now quite likely that all three of Atletico Madrid, Napoli and Borussia Dortmund will enter the competition at the next stage, a daunting prospect for their potential opposition.

    Diego Simeone's side won Europe's less reputable trophy back in 2012, before they became an annual feature of the Champions League's latter stages.

    Napoli, meanwhile, are flying high in Serie A, under the guidance of the inimitable Maurizio Sarri and Dortmund have suffered a slump in form but boast a team full of youthful talent.

    Arsenal, Lazio and Lyon will be amongst the clubs hoping that none of the above finish in the third places of their respective groups.

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Callum Rice-Coates

Callum is a senior writer for These Football Times. He has also had work featured on Tifo Football, the Set Pieces, the Sportsman, Sports Illustrated and others.

Follow him on Twitter @Callumrc96