Arsenal are back in Europa League action against Molde FK on Thursday.
Who’d have thought four years ago Arsenal would be relishing this competition as a means of escapism from the weekly disappointments of the Premier League. This is the sorry state of affairs and it will be refreshing to head into a game Arsenal *might* win.
The Europa League has been fun. Three matches in, three wins and nine goals scored. Nine goals scored! All the club have mustered after nine top-flight fixtures. Some might say Arsenal have found their level.
How sad is that. Let’s be more uplifting, shall we?
Given that the team are riddled with absentees at the moment, there is hope we’ll see more of the academy given a chance to shine in Norway. Wholesale changes are needed in order to rest members of the senior setup for Wolves on Sunday, but Arsenal aren’t over the line yet when it comes to the group stages, so there should a nice blend.
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Victory will go a long way towards getting Mikel Arteta‘s team into the knockout stages as group winners, as they could secure top spot if Dundalk avoid defeat against Rapid Vienna. Such an eventuality would leave Arsenal six points clear of Molde in second with two games spare, but they would boast the superior head-to-head record.
For Molde, this is a match they need a positive result from. Lose and their hopes of reaching the next stage could come down to a final round showdown with Rapid. All those aspects hinting towards an exciting encounter at the Aker Stadion.
Here’s your preview of Thursday’s Europa League clash.
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Arsenal have been hit hard by the recent international break, with a host of players racking up plenty of minutes over six-day periods. Add to that the injuries already facing the side, the new ones from the Leeds draw and two players absent with COVID-19, and Arteta’s lineup becomes easier to pick. Or tougher, whichever way you look at it.
Calum Chambers played 45 minutes for the Under-23 side on his return from injury, a solid shift but presumably not enough to warrant a starting berth on Thursday. Pablo Mari continues his rehabilitation having suffered a setback, so he too is short. Sead Kolasinac tested positive for the coronavirus and will miss out, while Kieran Tierney will be given a rest following his Scotland excursions.
Mohamed Elneny misses out for the same reason as Kolasinac, Thomas Partey could feature after sustaining a thigh problem, while the extent of both Willian and Bukayo Saka‘s knocks aren’t known. David Luiz will return after he and his partner recently welcomed a baby girl.
Does Nicolas Pepe play? His three match ban doesn’t carry over into this competition so he could be given a chance. Knowing Arteta, however, it would be no surprise to see him exempt from the squad entirely.
Molde FK: Linde; Pedersen, Bjornbak, Gregersen, Haugen; Aursnes, Hussain, Eikrem; Hested, Brynhildsen, James
Arsenal: Leno; Cedric, Mustafi, Luiz, Maitland-Niles; Nelson, Willock, Ceballos, Smith Rowe; Lacazette, Nketiah
Molde FK vs Arsenal Score Prediction
Coming into this one with an enviable position in the table, the pressure is off Arsenal to perform and play with some attacking freedom. Molde like to move the ball around quickly through the thirds – a progressive trait that is unrecognisable at Arsenal – which will provide Arsenal with more space to run into in advanced areas.
Taking advantage of those turnovers, of which we can expect many on Thursday, will be the best route to goal for the Gunners, considering creating meaningful chances of their own doing is near impossible.
However, Arsenal have found fluency in this competition in far greater quantity than in the Premier League, albeit much of that coming down to the quality of opposition. Securing three points and passage to the next round would be ideal, although this looks set to be the toughest test of the group given the injury concerns.
With Eddie Nketiah and Alexandre Lacazette both playing no part on Sunday, they could get the chance from the off, perhaps in a 4-3-3 with Nketiah in that unfavoured wider role. Pace in the forward line would be preferred, but I fear, wrongly, Pepe won’t play.
Score Prediction: Molde FK 2-2 Arsenal