Arsenal welcome fans on Thursday for the visit of Rapid Vienna in the Europa League.
For the first time in 241 days, Arsenal will have supporters at the Emirates Stadium for Rapid Vienna in the fifth round of the 2020/21 Europa League group stages.
In terms of competition, this is the ideal one to welcome the fans back. Like hiding in the toilet at an awkwardly dismal party, it’s where we can feel relaxed and not forced to put on a brave face.
With qualification wrapped up and just a solitary point needed to secure top spot, Arsenal could play with even more freedom than they have thus far, backed by a supporting cast of youngsters vying to prove their worth in the senior side.
We could see any number of debuts for Under-23 stars, whether from the off or later in proceedings.
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Given it’s the North London Derby on Sunday, Mikel Arteta has even more reason to rest his regular first-team players, even if the case for them being dropped in favour of youth gets stronger by the day.
Facing injuries ahead of a daunting December fixture list, there will be new faces to welcome the old ones back to the Emirates.
And after the dreadful year the world has endured, the sight of Arsenal fans back at N7 will be a glorious occasion.
Here is Thursday’s predicted lineup to face Rapid Vienna.
Goalkeeper & Defenders
Alex Runar Runarsson (GK) – After Arteta claimed that he was going to stick with Bernd Leno throughout the season, Runarsson has clearly done enough to warrant a place in the side for the group stages. We’re yet to see him make much in the way of a save, but he’s shown to be a risky, confident customer on the ball.
Cedric Soares (RB) – His link-up play with Nicolas Pepe has improved over the course of the European campaign this season, and while not solely down to Cedric’s doing, Pepe’s output in this competition has been far greater. Is that just because he’s played more minutes in the Europa League and the quality of opposition is weaker? Well, that’d be less fun.
Shkodran Mustafi (CB) – Quietly had a good game against Molde in the last round, playing out from the back well and putting in a few solid clearances. Still, this feels like his level now. He’s not Premier League standard.
Sead Kolasinac (CB) – As we saw against Dundalk, Sead Kolasinac lining up in central defence doesn’t mean all too much. Midfielders will drop in to form a back three, and the Bosnian will throw himself up and down the left flank.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles (LB) – After a shaky opening period in Norway, Ainsley Maitland-Niles grew into the game and ended up putting in a solid display at left-back. With Arsenal having home advantage, he’ll more likely resemble an auxiliary winger.