5 of the Main Contenders to Win This Season's Coveted Europa League Title

The Europa League is beginning to hot up with the much-anticipated Round of 32 draw throwing up a number of tantalising fixtures. 

It’s often a difficult competition to predict, due partly to the vast number of clubs that take part in the early stages and, of course, the introduction of teams unsuccessful in the Champions League from the second round. 

There are, however, a group of teams that have emerged as considerably superior to their opposition, and that will perhaps ultimately go on to lift the trophy. 

With that in mind, here are four potential winners of the Europa League.

5. Arsenal

Arsenal strolled almost nonchalantly into the last 32 with two games to spare. Arsene Wenger's rotation policy has not backfired but has, in fact, worked almost perfectly.

The Gunners have been able to offer invaluable game time to promising youngsters such as Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Reiss Nelson and Joe Willock while maintaining the match fitness of players on the fringes: Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott, et al.

Admittedly, Group H was not the strongest in the Europa League. Red Star Belgrade offered Arsenal more of a challenge in their double header but BATE Borisov were dispatched with relative ease, while defeat against Koln was unimportant.

The latter stages will undoubtedly prove decidedly more difficult but Arsenal must be considered amongst the favourites to win the title. The strength and depth of their squad is matched by very few clubs in the competition.  

4. Lyon

Lyon are one of a plethora of clubs who might consider themselves potential winners of the Europa League. 

But the French club get the edge over the likes of AC Milan and Villarreal given their increasingly impressive form and their propensity for fluid, attacking football. Bruno Genesio's side are prolific in Ligue 1 - less so in Europe but they have started to show signs of their offensive prowess - and boast a squad of talented players.

Lyon saw off Everton with a 3-0 win last month, a demonstration, particularly in the second-half, of what they can do when in full flow. 

They are by no means polished, not the finished article. But the form of Nabil Fekir - who has scored 13 goals in 17 appearances so far this season - and the re-emergence of Memphis Depay could help them challenge.  

3. Lazio

Lazio are playing with a swagger and confidence, led by a tactically astute coach being tipped as a potential replacement for Massimiliano Allegri at Juventus.

Simone Inzaghi's Lazio renaissance appears to have reached its zenith. They cruised through their group into the next stage, swatting aside Nice, Zulte Waregem and Vitesse, with only Zenit and Real Sociedad having scored more goals in the group stages.

Few would have backed the Biancocelesti prior to the competition's start. Since then, though, they have beaten Juventus twice, made an excellent start to the domestic season and embarked on an imperious unbeaten run. Lazio are a real threat. 

2. Zenit Saint Petersburg

Zenit, given their impressive form in the group stages, could be considered dark horses at this early stage.

Roberto Mancini's side have breezed through their group, and a trip to their Krestovsky Stadium is always an unenviable prospect. The Russian club have never lost a home fixture in the Europa League, won the competition as recently as 2008 and are in impressive form domestically.

Then there's the goalscoring form of Emiliano Rigoni and Aleksandr Kokorin, who have found the net six and five times respectively. There will be plenty of clubs hoping to avoid Zenit in the next stage.

1. Champions League Dropouts

The quality of the teams dropping into the Europa League from the Champions League this season could be something of an anomaly.

Atletico Madrid  and Borussia Dortmund have now entered the competition, facing København and Atalanta respectively, and will expect to go all the way in the Europa League.

Diego Simeone's side won Europe's less reputable trophy back in 2012, before they became an annual feature of the Champions League's latter stages. Dortmund, meanwhile, have suffered a dramatic slump in form, leading to the sacking of manager Peter Bosz, but boast a team full of youthful talent.

Maurizio Sarri's Napoli , currently second in Serie A and in imperious form, face a tantalising fixture with RB Leipzig, but will also consider themselves favourites for the competition.