Arsenal’s next quest for Europa League glory kicks off on Thursday, as the Gunners travel to meet Swiss champions FC Zurich in Group A at Kybunpark.
Mikel Arteta’s side earned a straightforward route into the group stage courtesy of finishing fifth in the Premier League, while their hosts failed to make it through Champions League qualifying.
Unlike their more revered opponents, Zurich have experienced a taste of Champions League football in the 2022-23 season, but Franco Foda was unable to guide his side past Azerbaijan’s Qarabag in the second qualifying round as they fell to a 5-4 aggregate loss.
Dropping down to the second tier of continental competition, Zurich recovered to put five past Linfield over two legs before seeing off Hearts 3-1 on aggregate to book their place in the Europa League group stage for the fifth time in 11 years.
The 13-time Swiss champions bowed out at the group stage in each of the 2011-12, 2014-15 and 2016-17 editions, but they ended that hoodoo during their last outing in the secondary competition, going as far as the last-32 in 2018-19 before being eliminated by Napoli.
On a more sour note, FCZ have endured a bitterly disappointing start to the defence of their title in the Swiss Super League, as they are without a win from seven games in the new domestic season and have suffered three consecutive home defeats to Sion, Basel and Lugano.
Losing the highly-rated Wilfried Gnonto to Leeds United has not helped Zurich in that regard, but the 18-year-old had failed to fire in the 2022-23 Swiss Super League anyway, and recording a fifth-straight Europa League win will not be a cakewalk for the hosts.
From being regarded as favourites for the fourth and final Champions League spot – even being touted as dark horses for third by some – to another stint in the Europa League, Arsenal sure were handed a harsh reality check at the end of the 2021-22 season.
A fifth campaign in the second tier of European football now awaits the North London club, who were losing finalists in 2019, losing semi-finalists in 2018 and 2021, and the less said about their last-32 exit to Olympiacos in 2020 the better.
Nevertheless, the Mikel Arteta philosophy has been paying dividends for the Gunners over the past few weeks, with Arsenal’s astute signings contributing to their new-found status as a pressing machine, but Manchester United brought them crashing back down to earth at the weekend.
Marcus Rashford and £85m man Antony ended Arsenal’s perfect start to the new Premier League season, but they still lead the way after six games, and the English giants head into Thursday’s contest holding a 75% win rate from Europa League group-stage games – for teams who have participated in at least three editions of the tournament, only Zenit St Petersburg (79%) have fared better in that regard.
Thursday’s contest will mark the inaugural competitive meeting between Arsenal and Zurich, but the Gunners make the journey boasting a 100% success rate from previous games against Swiss teams – six wins from six – as the forgotten man Lucas Perez hit a hat-trick in a 4-1 win over Basel during the 2016-17 Champions League.
FC Zurich Europa League form:
FC Zurich form (all competitions):
Arsenal form (all competitions):
We say: FC Zurich 0-2 Arsenal
While rotation can be expected on the visitors’ end, Arteta will still put out a side capable of laying down a marker with an abundance of youthful talent, and the Gunners would have felt aggrieved to come away from Old Trafford with nothing to show from it.
In contrast, Zurich have made an abysmal start to their new domestic season, and despite performing better on the continent, we cannot envisage any other result than a comfortable away win for Arteta’s side this week.