Arsenal didn’t exactly cruise into the quarter-finals of the UEFA Europa League but their work over the two legs against Olympiacos was done in Greece, ensuring that Thursday’s mild hiccup at the Emirates Stadium proved inconsequential.
Nevertheless, Mikel Arteta’s side’s propensity to stumble in matches just as they’re gaining a head of steams seems to have informed their attitude towards the next phase of the competition as they were drawn against Slavia Prague.
In terms of reputation, the Czechs represent one of the more manageable opponents left in the competition but having knocked out Leicester City – 15 points above Arsenal in the Premier League table – and Scottish champions Rangers, the slight air of pessimism among Gunners fans is understandable.
But beyond that challenge lies perhaps the more exciting prospect with Arsenal’s half of the draw also occupied by Villarreal, now home to Unai Emery following his departure from north London in November 2019.
The Yellow Submarine take on Tottenham Hotspur’s conquerors Dinamo Zagreb, and the winner of that tie will then face Arsenal or Slavia Prague.
If things go according to plan it will be a reunion with a manager who will eternally divide opinion as to his impact at the club, and also evoke memories of the 2006 Champions League semi-final, when Arsenal knocked out a Juan Roman Riquelme-inspired Villarreal to set up a final against Barcelona.
Spurs’ humiliating exit at the hands of Dinamo Zagreb on Thursday night may have provided Arsenal fans with plenty of ammunition, but it’s also served as a stark warning with regards to underrating opposition who may not be stocked with household names.
As you can see from the examples below, cautiously optimistic is the tone right now with the prospect of Emery sparking varying degrees of excitement and dread.
On the other side of the draw, Manchester United have Spanish opposition in the form of Granada while, in maybe the marquee match-up of the quarter-final draw Ajax take on Roma.
Arsenal and Slavia Prague will meet across two legs on April 8 and April 15, with the first game at Emirates Stadium following by a game in the Czech capital.