Thursday, 15 February 2018

Arsenal’s Trip To Ostersund Previewed

With our hopes of a top four finish this season almost finished it’s time for Arsenal to get back to Europa League action with a trip to Sweden in the first leg of their last 32 tie. The Europa League has become an awful lot more important now with the top four almost gone as the winner gains qualification for next season’s Champions League. As it stands it’s definitely our best route to Europe’s premier club competition for next season despite some very good teams standing in our way.

On the face of it we are huge favourites to progress over two legs and even to win this evening. The trouble comes when you look at our away form this season and our inability to overcome any sort of meaningful challenge on the road. When a game starts to go agsinst us away from home we seem unable to find any answers and change the game.

Arsene Wenger seems to realise the importance of the Europa League at this stage in our season and we won’t see a team of reserves and fringe players as we did in the group games. We should see our strongest team today with no game this weekend and it would be ideal if we could put the tie to bed today considering what next week holds. We have the return leg this day week and a Carabao Cup Final date with City only three days later. It would be great to be able to rest some players ahead of that game, but the Europa League is a more important competition.

New boy Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang isn’t eligible today and Alexandre Lacazette has undergone knee surgery which will keep him out for up to six weeks. It looks like the only real option up front is Danny Welbeck with Eddie Nketiah a possibility from the bench too. I’ve never been overly impressed by Welbeck, but he has the chance in these two games to show what he can do after his most recent return from injury. 

If the manager is going to play a strong team he will still be tempted to play David Ospina in goal. As over the hill as Petr Cech might be I still think he is far superior to Ospina, but I would be tempted to sub Ospina in if any tie goes to penalties considering it is going on seven years since Cech saved one I believe. I think we will see Ospina in goal tonight though and I just hope he remembers to stand in front of his line rather than behind it as he so often does. 

I think we might have the ideal opportunity today to reintroduce Sead Kolasinac to the team and maybe even play Ainsley Maitland-Niles in his preferred midfield role too. Ostersund have had a meteoric rise through the leagues in Sweden, but they will have to do something very special to live with us as long as we keep our heads and play the right way. We have only two European trophies to our name and it would be far from bad to give ourselves a chance of adding to that tally.

That’s it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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