Arsenal journey to the distant and chilly Swedish outpost of Ostersund on Thursday evening (15 February) for the primary leg of their Europa League last-32 tie in opposition to unfancied minnows which have made unbelievable strides below the tutelage of English head coach Graham Potter.
After a disappointing 1-0 north London derby defeat to Tottenham Hotspur on the weekend coupled with Chelsea’s subsequent victory over West Bromwich Albion left them eight factors adrift of the highest 4 heading in the direction of the enterprise finish of the season, a primary victory in Europe’s much-maligned secondary membership competitors seemingly represents the Gunners’ finest probability to return to the highest desk of the Champions League.
Arsene Wenger has usually used the Europa League – along with the home cup competitions – as an opportunity handy common alternatives to fringe members of his first-team squad, although confirmed after that loss to Spurs that he plans to discipline a full-strength aspect at Ostersunds FK’s 9,000-capacity Jamtkraft Enviornment together with his crew not in FA Cup motion this weekend.
Owing to their shock third-round exit by the hands of Championship aspect Nottingham Forest in early January, Arsenal don’t play once more till the return fixture on the Emirates Stadium on 22 February and can presumably be hoping to wrap up this tie in Sweden on condition that the second leg comes simply three days earlier than the Carabao Cup closing conflict with Manchester City.
“I’d have anyway gone for it, particularly as we have now no recreation between the 2 matches,” Wenger was quoted as saying by the Mirror.
“I’ll play the conventional crew as a result of it is without doubt one of the alternatives we have now particularly as a result of we do not play within the FA Cup. There isn’t any purpose why I ought to relaxation gamers.”
With new £56m ($77.5m) January recruit Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang ineligible for the latter phases of the Europa League as the results of former employers Borussia Dortmund’s entry, earlier report signing Alexandre Lacazette was anticipated to return to the beginning XI in opposition to Ostersunds.
Nevertheless, it emerged on Tuesday that the out-of-form French worldwide had undergone a profitable arthroscopy on his left knee in London and could be sidelined for between 4 to 6 weeks in what Wenger described as a “massive blow”.
That surprising setback, notably ill-timed given the current exits of Alexis Sanchez, Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott, leaves Danny Welbeck as Arsenal’s solely senior obtainable ahead within the Europa League. Regardless of the 27-year-old solely just lately getting back from one more harm lay-off, you think about he might be chosen to steer the road forward of teenage academy product Eddie Nketiah.
Any of the membership’s assortment of gifted and versatile attacking midfielders – notably Henrikh Mkhitaryan – could possibly be deployed as a false 9, however that appears unlikely at this stage.
With Wenger’s feedback in thoughts and if he sticks together with his now most popular Four-Three-Three system, it’s arduous to see too many different modifications to the crew defeated by Spurs.
Nevertheless, you’ll nonetheless count on cup common David Ospina to deputise for the more and more error-prone Petr Cech and it could possibly be that the spectacular Nacho Monreal is rested to permit Sead Kolasinac, who has turn into a peripheral determine of late having beforehand appeared on observe to realize swift cult standing following his free summer season switch from Schalke, an more and more uncommon begin.
The supervisor might alternatively select to revert again to his beforehand favoured Three-Four-2-1, whereas the acquainted Four-2-Three-1 that proved so efficient through the current 5-2 thrashing of Everton and was additionally revived for the 6-Zero Group H demolition of BATE Borisov in December represents one other intriguing choice regardless of the departure of Walcott.
In that formation, Welbeck could be supported by the trio of Mkhitaryan, Mesut Ozil and Alex Iwobi, with Mohamed Elneny dropping out to accommodate the latter and go away Granit Xhaka and Jack Wilshere to function as a midfield pair.
The dearth of a recognised defensive-minded holding midfielder would usually be a priority, because it was when Wilshere and Xhaka had been uncovered within the Four-2-Three-1 in a six-goal thriller in opposition to Liverpool earlier than Christmas, nevertheless it doesn’t appear overly dismissive of Ostersunds – who’ve already crushed the likes of Galatasaray and Hertha Berlin this season – to counsel that one is probably not required tomorrow night.
All of that is predicated on Aaron Ramsey remaining within the remedy room with Lacazette and long-term absentee Santi Cazorla, with a groin harm having saved the Welshman sidelined since he notched a primary Arsenal hat-trick in opposition to Everton.