Arsenal host Rapid Vienna in the Europa League on Thursday evening.
And you know what? We can’t bloody wait. Our craving for escapism from what will continue to be slow-burning agony can only be found in one place: the Europa League. A sanctuary for Arsenal supporters where, for 90 minutes at least, everything appears tranquil.
Watching the side score goals – just creating chances is welcome enough – with youthful exuberance dotted around the side is the perfect tonic.
Facing off against opposition that won’t nullify what little threat Arsenal pose as effectively as the sides in the Premier League is, sadly, as good as it gets.
Four wins from four in the 2020/21 group stages has Mikel Arteta‘s side already qualified for the knockout stages, with a solitary point at home to Rapid Vienna confirming our place atop the group. Considering the quality of opposition left in the competition and those set to drop down from the Champions League, it’s utterly vital.
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Even more so when this competition looks already like being the only feasible route back into Europe’s elite club competition.
What we want to see on Thursday is minutes earned for the Under-23 stars. Whether they’re from the off or from the bench in the second period, the likes of Miguel Azeez and Ben Cottrell earning their senior debuts would lift the solemn mood around north London.
On top of that, Nicolas Pepe will have another opportunity to prove he’s turned a corner, after his superb display in the previous win over Molde.
Best of all? There will be fans at the Emirates! Actual, real, Arsenal fans. Let’s hope the boys put on a show. Here is your preview.
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Unlikely to have played against the Austrians anyway, on the positive front, Sead Kolasinac looks set to be involved after completing a period of isolation following a positive COVID-19 test. Mohamed Elneny is also available having been on the bench for the recent loss to Wolves.
In defence, both Calum Chambers and Pablo Mari have completed minutes with the Under-23 side, and with both selected in the Europa League squad, could be granted a spot on the bench.
It is unlikely though, and a more reasonable time frame would be the final clash with Dundalk on matchday six. David Luiz suffered a cut on his head and couldn’t carry on against Wolves, but he will be available.
Gabriel Martinelli aside, the squad is in decent enough shape for Thursday.
Rapid Vienna have Tamás Szántó and Maximilian Hofmann both suspended for their trip to the Emirates, while midfielders Dejan Ljubicic, Dejan Petrovic, Dalibor Velimirovic and Philipp Schobesberger will be absent through injury.
Arsenal: Runarsson; Cedric, Mustafi, Luiz, Kolasinac; Elneny, Xhaka, Smith Rowe; Pepe, Nketiah, Maitland-Niles
Rapid Vienna: Strebinger; Stojković, Sonnleitner, Barać; Arase, Grahovac, Knasmüllner, Ullmann; Murg, Kara, Fountas
Arsenal vs Rapid Vienna Score Prediction
Rapid find themselves in a dangerous position in the group, level on points with Molde but with an inferior goal difference. The last clash of the group sees those two face off, and with the Norwegian side expected to see off Dundalk in their match, they will need a positive result on Thursday.
That could come in the form of a structured defensive unit that battles for a solitary point, or they could come flying out of the traps to try and edge their noses in front.
Whatever the gameplan Dietmar Kühbauer opts for, Arsenal should have enough to see them off.
Pepe will be fired up once more, Smith Rowe is in line for his first senior start of the season and Eddie Nketiah will be desperate to make up for a handful of missed chances in the previous round of fixtures. Elneny is likely to come in to get some minutes under his belt before presumably returning for the North London Derby, and the Gunners should make it five from five.
Score early and the floodgates could well open. I can’t foresee it being a hammering of any kind, partly due to the glum mood around the club, but ideally Arsenal will find themselves a few goals in front so we can see some of the academy stars get a run out.
In fairness, even if Arsenal are trailing they should get their senior debuts on Thursday.
Score Prediction: Arsenal 3-1 Rapid Vienna