Thursday, 22 February 2018

Arsenal V Ostersund Preview

Things are a little odd at the moment for us Arsenal fans with a game last Thursday night and another game tonight, but no weekend game in between. The FA Cup exit to Forest was the reason we didn’t play last weekend and our sojourn in the Europa League is the reason for a season interspersed with Thursday night football. There’s still a way to go in the Europa League, but if we can finish the job we started last week we will at least be through to the last 16.

After a 3-0 win in Sweden last week we have a great advantage going into tonight’s second leg. Last week’s game wasn’t exactly a classic, but the 3-0 win leaves us nicely set up to progress to the last 16 where we can probably expect a tougher opponent. That doesn’t mean tonight is a forgone conclusion, but anything other than Arsenal progressing to the next round would be a disaster at this stage.

With the Carabao Cup Final against City on Sunday you would expect Arsene Wenger to rest whatever players he can tonight. I would be surprised to see Laurent Koscielny, Mesut Ozil and Nacho Monreal in the team, but otherwise I think he will pick a strong enough team. Ostersund gave it a go when they went 2-0 down last week, but even a team without those three players should be too strong for them.

The manager has been talking Danny Welbeck up ahead of the game and it’s another chance for him to show what he can do. His career at Arsenal has been severely hampered by injuries and he’s just back from the latest of those. He has shown promise at times, but I’m not sure he’s at the level we require going forward.

With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang ineligible and Alexandre Lacazette injured he’s our best option in the Europa League unless Eddie Nketiah was to be given a shot. He certainly looks like he could be the future of the club and the game tonight might just be a big chance for him. Maybe Welbeck will start in a wider role with Nketiah through the middle, but I doubt it as much as I might want to see it happen. 

I can’t see Aaron Ramsey playing either as he’s only just returning from injury and I suspect everything will be done to make sure he is available for Sunday. It will be interesting to see whether it’s him or Jack Wilshere selected to play alongside Granit Xhaka agsinst City. I think we will get another look at Ainsley Maitland-Niles in midfield tonight and maybe we might even see the elusive Sead Kolasinac at left back.

David Ospina will be in goal again and he will more than likely play there on Sunday too. Whatever about rotating our keepers or giving Ospina a chance in cup games I think we have to play our strongest team in a cup final. It’s a decision which could cost us dearly on Sunday (unless it goes to penalties), but I would be very surprised if Ospina didn’t play.

To be honest tonight is a game we really want to get out of the way with the minimum fuss so we can concentrate on Sunday. The Carabao Cup might not be the biggest trophy in terms of credibility, but it’s our best chance of a trophy this season at this stage. The Europa League still offers another chance, but we will have a long way to go after tonight just to reach the final and an awful lot of good teams stand in our way.

That’s it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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