The Europa League is back and more than ever is a competition to savour

This season’s round of 32 is arguably the strongest since the Uefa Cup was rebranded in 2009 and should help the second-tier tournament shed its second-rate reputationIt’s hard to know sometimes if Arsène Wenger is an optimist or pessimist. A football romantic who acts as if he genuinely believes the world is out to get him (Mike Dean especially), the Frenchman’s glass appears to be as full as it is empty, and that may well be the case as he ponders Arsenal’s return to Europa League action on Thursday. No doubt Wenger will be chuffed with who his side face in the round of 32 – Sweden’s Östersund – but less pleasing to him will be the calibre of teams Arsenal could face in subsequent rounds. For this year’s Europa League knockout stages are arguably the most intriguing and downright difficult since the expanded, more lucrative version of the Cup came into existence nine years ago. Continue reading...