Arsenal travel to Rapid Vienna for their Europa League group stage opener on Thursday.
An FA Cup success over Chelsea back on August 1st granted Arsenal the chance to compete in Europe once more. But while it’s not the ideal competition, the value of being in Europe can’t be understated both financially and logistically.
This Premier League season is already staking a claim for becoming the most ridiculous in history, with enough mind-boggling results to fill an entire campaign, let alone five match weeks. With hopes of reaching the top four still at the forefront of Mikel Arteta’s plans, the opportunity to return among Europe’s elite via the Europa League provides a route back to the Champions League that must be taken seriously.
Handed a group featuring Rapid Vienna, Dundalk and Molde, it’s fair to say the draw has been kind to Arsenal, although football across the continent is never easy, never predictable, nor ever a foregone conclusion.
More from Pain in the Arsenal
First up for the Gunners is a trip to the beautiful city of Vienna to take on last season’s Austrian Bundesliga runners up.
Here is your preview of the clash.
How to Watch on TV
When Is Kick Off? Thursday 22nd October
What Time Is Kick Off? 17:55 (BST)
Where Is it Played? Allianz Stadion
TV Channel/Live Stream? BT Sport (UK)
Team News & Injuries
We can expect to see a vastly different Arsenal side to the one who fell to defeat against Manchester City last time out, as Arteta is expected to ring the changes at the Allianz Stadion.
Injury wise, Rob Holding will be out for three weeks following a hamstring injury picked up in the warm-up before the Manchester City defeat, while Pablo Mari is just over a week away from resuming full training.
Calum Chambers is on a similar recovery path having now resumed training, but a decision on his fitness will likely come after the coming international break, Shkodran Mustafi, however, if available for selection.
Sokratis and Mesut Ozil are both fit, but they were left out of the Europa League squad. The same applies to William Saliba.
We could well see a start for Emile Smith Rowe on Thursday, potentially in a wide berth or through the middle, while Reiss Nelson, Joe Willock and Eddie Nketiah are set to earn spots in the starting lineup.
Likewise, Cedric should come in for Hector Bellerin and Sead Kolasinac for Kieran Tierney. There could be a first appearance of the season for new signing Alex Runarsson in goal, but it might be too soon.
As for Rapid, they’re missing four players through long-term injuries, three of which are due to cruciate ligament ruptures. Midfielder Dalibor Velimirovic has been out since August, centre-back Christopher Dibon since June and Philipp Schobesberger since last November. Tamás Szántó remains a very long-term absentee.
Rapid Vienna: Strebinger; Stojković, Hofmann, Barać; Arase, Grahovac, Ljubicic, Ullmann; Murg, Kara, Fountas
Arsenal: Leno; Luiz, Gabriel, Kolasinac; Cedric, Partey, Elneny, Maitland-Niles; Willock, Nketiah, Nelson
Rapid Vienna Strengths & Weaknesses
The first name drawn out of the hat to face Arsenal were Pot 2 side Rapid Vienna. The club find themselves in a near identical stage of the season, having played four Austrian Bundesliga matches thus far as well as a handful of cup matches.
Their only loss in the 2020/21 season was a 2-1 defeat to Gent in the Champions League third qualifying round, one that saw them placed into the Europa League group stages. They are no pushovers, to put it one way.
Where are they strongest? Well, they boast a Greek striker who has been in immense form since joining from fellow Austrian side St. Pölten, scoring no less than 27 goals in his 36 matches to date, four coming in four appearances this season. In terms of where he operates, Taxiarchis Fountas plays anywhere across Rapid’s three man forward line.
Popping up on the right, left or through the middle, depending on the opposition they face, Rapid have been known to change their system up accordingly. Very Emery-esque. So far this season they’ve played in a 4-3-3, 4-3-2-1 and 3-4-3 setup, which makes preparation for Thursday less straightforward.
When they do operate with a lone striker, Fountas is given the freedom to drop into the pocket and make late runs into the box from an attacking midfielder position, or hover on the edge. Delightfully ambipedal, his finishing is accurate and lethal; and being their best player, wherever he can be of most use he tends to play.
What can we expect against them? They’re a side who like to press high but offer balance with three central defenders. Given they’re facing Arsenal, we can assume they’ll go with this approach for Thursday. In possession they like to feed giant frontman Ercan Kara, whose aerial presence encourages wide men running in behind.
Arsenal need to flood their team with pace to get the better of Rapid. Lacking speed in their backline, their compensation with three central defenders works to balance their deficiencies. Controlling the midfield and finding the spaces in between the full-backs and centre-backs will be where Arsenal can do most damage.
The difference in quality between both sides will obviously have a bearing, but Arteta will still be mindful of Die Grün-Weißen’s big man/little man forward combo.
Rapid Vienna vs Arsenal Score Prediction
This should be a great game. Albeit having lost two of their last three Premier League matches, there is still a case to make for Arsenal being in good form considering much of the side who will play on Thursday will be the players who won back-to-back Carabao Cup matches against Leicester and Liverpool.
Similarly, Vienna are unbeaten domestically this season and have scored ten goals in their last three matches.
It can always be tricky to make predictions for matches against unfamiliar sides, but the form of Arsenal’s youngsters should see them over the line. Nketiah keeps scoring for club and country, Nelson looked hungry last time he played, while in midfield Elneny is in his best Arsenal form to date. A debut for Partey has the mouth salivating.
Winning the individual battles will be the first port of call, while making sure to limit the opposition defenders feeding balls into Kara will be second.
Away European trips are never easy, but on this occasion I think quality will shine through. If it does, then it’s a perfect start to the group having played our toughest match on paper first.
Score Prediciton: Rapid Vienna 1-2 Arsenal