Arsenal have been drawn to play against Belarusian side BATE Borisov in the first knockout round of this seasons Europa League.
The Gunners qualified comfortably from Europa League Group E in which the Gunners won five out of their six matches, drawing the remaining one against Sporting Lisbon.
Unai Emery has a wealth of experience in the Europa League having remarkably won the competition three separate times during his time as Sevilla boss.
The north London side came close to getting their hands on the Europa League trophy last season but were narrowly beaten by eventual winners Atletico Madrid in the semi-finals (2-1 on aggregate), who qualified for the Europa League having dropped out of the Champions’ League group stages.
The first leg in Belarus will be played on 14th February, meanwhile, the return leg at the Emirates is expected to be played on Wednesday 20th February at 5pm as to avoid a clash with the London teams playing at 8pm in the Champions League and Chelsea on the following day.
Head to head
Arsenal and BATE Borisov have only faced each other twice, coming very recently as the sides faced each other in last years Europa League group stages.
The Gunners got the better of the Belarus side on both occasions, first with a 4-2 win away from home before they thrashed Borisov 6-0 at the Emirates.
There is a notable connection between the two clubs, however, as former Arsenal winger Alexander Hleb, who played his football in north London from 2005-2008 will make a return to his former club. Hleb is currently in his fifth spell at Borisov and the 37-year-old can look forward to a reunion at the Emirates.
Increasing importance of Europa League
Arsenal’s 22 game unbeaten run came to an end at the weekend with a 3-2 away defeat against struggling Southampton and with the increasing competitiveness to get into the top four of the Premier League, the Europa League is likely to take on more significance for Arsenal as the competition progresses.
With a European trophy up for grabs and a route to qualify for the Champions League, Arsenal may fancy their chances of winning the competition as they currently sit five points behind third-place Tottenham Hotspur and three points behind fourth-place Chelsea.
Emery has opted to give an opportunity to several young Arsenal players in the group stages of the Europa League and while they are still likely to feature in the knockout stages of the competition, we may see the Spanish manager opt for a slightly stronger squad as the competition gets into the more serious stages.