We held our breath as Arsenal, semi-finalists of the UEFA Europa League (UEL) last year, were drawn first. Europe's second string continental competition sees team from Azerbaijan and Ukraine enter the fray. While the UEL does not pose the same level of intense competition as the much anticipated UEFA Champions League (UCL), which remains the premier continental championship, it still does bring about the best of the teams.
The North London-based club finished a disappointing 6th in the Premiership last season, which meant that their European adventure will see them engage in extensive travel. Arsenal were drawn with Sporting Lisbon from Portugal, the Azerbaijan based club Qarabag FK and Ukraine's FC Vorskla Potlava.
If you are an Arsenal fan and a travel enthusiast too, following the Unai Emery managed club will take you on a journey to Europe.
Easily the most known location on itinerary is the English capital city of London and home of Arsenal. The club will play all three of its home games at the 60,000-capacity Emirates Stadium. The sporting amphitheater has seen several top stars grace it and is a popular tourist destination for football fans. If one chooses to stroll around the stadium they can find sculptures of Thierry Henry, the legendary French striker who played over 350 games for the London team, and a pair of cannons, which is the symbol of the historical club.
The capital city is a widely touted as a football fan's paradise. Six of the twenty teams in the English Premier League hail from this extraordinary place. One can make their way to Stamford Bridge, the home to Chelsea Football Club. The Bridge has witnessed several classics over the year and boasts a passionate group of fans. Selhurst Park, home to South London based club Crystal Palace, is the next stadium on the list. This sporting venue is stark contrast to the Emirates and the Bridge. Selhurst is a small capacity ground placing the fans next to the scene of action and therefore creating a boisterous and troubling atmosphere for the visiting teams. The prison-like feeling created here causes an inevitable sense of fear in the away team. Other stadiums to visit would be the London Stadium, home to West Ham United and Craven Cottage, Fulham's home ground.
Other places to catch a glimpse of in the city are the Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, Buckingham Palace, the Battle of Britain Memorial and the Westminster Cathedral.
Sporting Lisbon has a tradition of producing world beaters such as the modern great Cristiano Ronaldo. The Estadio Jose Alvalade is the glamorous home stadium of the Portuguese giants. While it is a powerful representation of Portugal's football factories with hordes of domestic championships, the Lisbon-based club have yet to make tremors on the European stage.
The Portuguese capital is a favourite among tourists. Alfama, the oldest part of the city, is a beautiful blend of the past with the present. You might feel as though you are stepping into a time warp to the 18th century when you venture on your little stroll. Enjoy the sounds of the traditional music, fado drifting in the air on your little walk as chops across the area play the tunes at the loudest volume.
We all know Vasco Da Gama's role in the discovery of India, but we often forget the status he holds in his native land. The Jeronimos Monastery, built over the course of a 100 years in the 16th century is a tribute to Da Gama. His tomb lies with the place along with several other prominent personalities of the nation through its history.
While Ukraine's big two, Dynamo Kyiv and Shakhtar Donetsk, often are heralded all over Europe the smaller clubs often go unnoticed. Well, FC Vorskla Potlava have managed to create history and qualify for second tier of European competition. With a 24,000-capacity stadium, the small Ukranian city is all set to welcome a footballing giant.
One of must-visit places in Potlava has to be the Uspensky Cathedral. Built strategically to overlook the valley, it was destroyed in the years following the Russian revolution before being re-erected a decade or so ago.
Serving as a tribute to those who died in the Battle of Potlava over three centuries ago, the White Rotunda is a recognisable landmark in this Eastern European city. Also known as the Monument of Friendship, it offers sublime viewing point of the city.
FK Qarabag were supposed to be light years away from generating the global buzz that Arsenal generate, but that changed during last year's UCL when they challenged Chelsea, Atletico Madrid, and Roma to the nail. Their 5,000-capacity stadium is alarmingly small compared to all their opponents, but they ate a tough team to crack.
Baku, the home of the team, is the lowest lying capital located at 28m below the sea level. On your proposed trip there, make some time for Shirvanshah's Palace. Located behind the Old City, it is one of oldest symbols standing in Baku dating all the way back to the 15th century. Near the Palace also lies the Maiden Tower which provides with the most beautiful of views of this Azerbaijani capital city. It was once upon a time used as a fortress by Shirvansha's forces for defensive measures.