Arsenal are back at the Emirates to welcome Molde FK on Thursday.
No doubt Mikel Arteta and his men will head into this one in high spirits. Sure, it’ll be an almost entirely different lineup that takes on the Norwegian side, but the culture at the club is such that victories anywhere are heralded as a team effort. Arsenal will be confident.
Ending a barren run not only at Old Trafford, but away at the ‘big six’ in general, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang‘s penalty in the 1-0 win, it’s now over to European duties where victory would go a long way towards securing qualification to the knockout stages.
Sitting atop Group B with six points, Arsenal take on Molde FK who also boast a winning start to their European venture. If the Gunners can navigate their way to victory, and Rapid Vienna draw with Dundalk, they could open up a gap of eight points with three matches left to play. Not cut and dry, but pretty darn close.
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Three points last time out against the Irish outfit saw Arteta make ten changes to his starting lineup, and with home comforts again on Thursday, it’s likely he’ll revert to a similar number of alterations, if not the same team entirely.
Molde only missed out on Champions League qualification on goal difference to Ferencváros in the play-offs, so they’re not to be taken lightly. However, they have lost seven matches out of the 23 they’ve played in the Elitserien so they’re not untouchable.
With back-to-back home matches awaiting Arsenal this week, victory against a side whose former manager was put to the sword at Old Trafford would be the ideal way to continue the momentum ahead of an interesting set of fixtures.
Here’s your preview of Thursday’s Europa League clash.
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Arsenal were buoyed by the sudden return from injury for Rob Holding against Manchester United, who defied the initial prognosis and laughed in the face of a three week layoff to make a Premier League start. Not only that, he played the full 90 minutes.
With David Luiz still nursing a thigh injury, even if he were to be touch and go it’s unlikely he’d start on Thursday. Pablo Mari suffered a slight setback and still won’t be available, the same applies to Calum Chambers who is still a few days off recovering.
As is the case for the rest of the calendar year, Gabriel Martinelli remains sidelined.
For the visitors, long-term absentee Kristoffer Haraldseid remains unavailable after the right-back suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury back in June. Other than that, Erling Moe boasts a full strength team as his side prepare to face Arsenal for the first time in UEFA competition.
Arsenal: Runarsson; Cedric, Mustafi, Xhaka, Kolasinac; Willock, Ceballos, Maitland-Niles; Nelson, Nketiah, Smith Rowe
Molde FK: Linde; Pedersen, Bjornbak, Gregersen, Haugen; Aursnes, Hussain, Eikrem; Hested, Omoijuanfo, James
Arsenal vs Molde FK Score Prediction
After breezing through their last home Europa League tie, the hopes are that Molde won’t be quite as conservative on Thursday night. A better footballing side than Dundalk, a more positive approach would be ideal in order for Arsenal’s forward players to have the spaces they need to carve open chances.
It won’t be as defensive from the Norwegians, but they’ll have little interest in opening the game up unnecessarily and being susceptible to a heavy defeat. With a six-point lead over everyone else in the group, a draw away at the toughest opponent is an result Moe and his side would arguably take right now.
They could also catch Arsenal cold and go gung-ho, at least in the early stages to get a lead they can cling on to, which would place the onus back on the home side to find their way through tricky low blocks.
What will play in Arsenal’s favour is that Molde are not a defensive side by nature. They’re well coached and have conceded the third fewest number of goals in their division, but they’re used to seeing plenty of the ball and playing their way through teams, not vice versa.
An early goal would seal this one. If Arsenal can break through the barrier in the first 20 or so minutes, the openness of Molde’s style will be there for the Gunners to pick apart. Even if they don’t they should claim the three points anyway, but hitting them quick will seal it.
Prediction: Arsenal 3-1 Molde FK