This Thursday at about 21:00 CET, Arsenal will fight to keep their season alive. The Emirates Stadium will host the first leg of the Europa League quarterfinals and Slavia Prague will be the guest of honor
Arsenal’s season is on life support following their spectacular 0-3 loss to Liverpool last weekend. The ‘Gunners’ are in the 10th place in the Premier League – and although they are not mathematically out of the fight for European places – Mikel Arteta and his team would need several miracles to catch up with their rivals.
Arteta had neither Emile Smith-Rowe, Bukayo Saka, David Luiz or Granit Xhaka against Liverpool – and to add insult to injury – Kieran Tierney was injured before the end of the first half. For this meeting, Smith-Rowe, Saka and Xhaka will be available, with Martín Odegaard as a doubt. However, Kieran Tierney (6 weeks off) and David Luiz (4 weeks off) will not be able to participate.
The loss to Liverpool was painful, but the loss of Tierney was the real catastrophe. Arsenal do not have a substitute left back, and the Scotsman is indispensable in Arteta’s system. This will force Arteta to make some awkward decisions. Cédric is a right back and although he has performed decently when playing on the left, the Portuguese does not have Tierney’s defensive presence or offensive threat.
So the question arises: How will Arteta solve this situation? The options are limited and in all cases suboptimal. To maintain the 4-2-3-1, Arteta could use Cédric as a changed band and bet that the Portuguese make the fewest possible mistakes or he could use Saka who has similar characteristics to Tierney. This would give Pepe the opportunity to play on the far right and make up for Saka’s absence.
On the other hand, he could change his system to the 3-4-3 (5-2-3) that he used to win the FA Cup last summer or play with the 4-3-3 that he implemented in the second half against Aston Villa (in January) with Thomas Partey at the base of midfield with Smith-Rowe and Odegaard as offensive 8’s. Arteta and Arsenal do not have the luxury of being wrong this time.
Slavia Prague will not be an easy opponent. The Czechs eliminated Leicester City (3rd in the Premier League) and Rangers (Scottish champions) to reach this appointment. Slavia Prague pressures the exit of the rivals and tries to suffocate the midfield, to be able to counterattack at speed. However, the capital team will not have its starting central defenders: David Hororka and Simon Deli. Ondrej Kudela, who was accused of racism against Rangers, will also not be available for provisional suspension.
The referee of the match will be the Swede Andreas Ekberg
Arsenal: Bernd Leno; Héctor Bellerín, Callum Chambers, Gabriel, Bukayo Saka, Granit Xhaka, Thomas Partey, Emile Smith-Rowe, Martín Odegaard, Pepe, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Slavia Prague: Vagner; Bah, Zima, Hromada, Boril; Holes, Sevcik; Sima, Stanciu, Olayinka; Kuchta