Arsenal travel to Dundalk for their final Europa League group stage clash.
Hey Google, define ‘fun’: “Fun is something that occurs once a week on a Thursday and lasts for a day or two until the impending torment Arsenal face every week takes place on a Sunday.”
We’re back in the Europa League on Sunday. Thank heavens for that. The most cynical (probably realistic) of us will see the trip to Ireland as the last ‘easy’ game Arsenal will have all season.
No match in the Premier League comes close to resembling similar, Manchester City in the Carabao Cup quarter-finals can go ahead and be simulated, while even Newcastle in the Third Round of the FA Cup is far from signalling immediate progression to the next stage.
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That said, Dundalk play their final game of their 2020/21 European campaign without a point on the board, and being at home (sort of) for the swansong and welcoming Arsenal will mean they’ll want to finish on a high.
With Premier League woes ahead for Arsenal this December, and with top spot secured, Mikel Arteta should grant some valuable minutes to a string of academy stars who can enjoy their first taste of senior football for the club.
We’ve been saying that for the past few matches, but with nothing to lose on Sunday it should make for an interesting clash that will deflect, although just temporarily, from the worst start to a league season for nearly 40 years.
Playing with the freedom we’ve come to expect from this competition, the added influx of young blood will ensure Thursday is more than just another fixture, and instead be the platform for the exciting crop of youngsters to further prove they’re ready for the step up.
Here’s your preview of Thursday Europa League clash with Dundalk.
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The injury list is looking distinctly brighter for Arsenal heading into the final stretch of the calendar year, with players returning from setbacks right on cue. Pablo Mari and Calum Chambers both earned minutes in the 4-1 win over Rapid Vienna, the former from the start and the latter as a second half substitute.
David Luiz has missed the previous two fixtures with a cut on his head, one that is expected to be healed in time for Thursday, however, he is unlikely to play.
Their returns coincide with the (hugely) welcome news that Gabriel Martinelli got his first competitive minutes on Tuesday night for the Under-21 side, although he is still some way of featuring for the senior side.
Thomas Partey was rushed back for the defeat to Sp*rs and has suffered what appears to be a recurrence of the thigh problem that had him sidelined for a month. No time frame has been put on that but the manner with which he left the field in the middle of the game suggests that he’s due for a long spell in the treatment room.
Arsenal: Runarsson; Cedric, Mustafi, Mari, Kolasinac; Elneny, Willock, Smith Rowe; Pepe, Balogun, Nelson
Dundalk: Rogers; Gartland, Boyle, Hoare; Gannon, Sloggett, Shields, Flores, Dummingan; Duffy, McMillan
Dundalk vs Arsenal Score Prediction
Just how many youngsters get the nod from the off will be interesting to see on Thursday, as Folarin Balogun, Miguel Azeez and Ben Cottrell are all in the running to make their first senior starts. For the latter two, it would be their first involvement with the first team to date.
Balogun and Emile Smith Rowe are the more likely candidates to earn a starting berth, both unable to do any more than they are to convince Arteta it’s warranted.
Dundalk, with absolutely nothing to play for and coming into this one off the back of a morale-boosting FAI Cup final victory over Shamrock Rovers will be in fine spirits. Despite that, the 120-minute slog will have taken a lot out of the team and fitness could play a big part as the game wears on.
Some supporters are calling for the senior players to get minutes on Thursday, as both a reminder of their positions in the team as well as the chance to build confidence, but it would be harsh on the academy stars who are deserving of their opportunity.
Hoping for another free-flowing, expansive brand of football from Arsenal, one that replicates the previous round, would be most welcome. Even if the game is a certified dead-rubber, they shouldn’t ease off the gas.
Score Prediction: Dundalk 1-4 Arsenal