Arsenal travel to Dundalk for their Europa League dead-rubber on Thursday.
Both sides are assured of finishing top and bottom of Group B respectively, regardless of the result, although Arsenal could make history with victory as it will be the first time the club have won all their European group stages matches of a season.
Dundalk are yet to claim a point in the 2020/21 Europa League, and hosting Mikel Arteta‘s side on the final gameweek presents them with a chance to finish on an almighty high.
A competition that has presented Arsenal fans with the chance to switch off from domestic doom, even if only as briefly as 90 minutes, will be no different on Thursday. If anything, there will be more chance to relax and soak up some exciting football with the expected inclusions of some senior debutants.
This season opportunities have been granted to Emile Smith Rowe and Folarin Balogun, both of whom have made fine impacts in the dabbles they’ve been given in the Europa League.
More are hoped to make their debuts in Ireland, with Miguel Azeez and Ben Cottrell two of the bigger names in line for memorable evenings at the Aviva Stadium.
Amid the struggles of Premier League football, there are some calls for the failing senior members of the squad to play, or at least travel, across the Irish Sea in an effort to remind them of their responsibilities and instill some much-needed confidence.
Wouldn’t that be punishing everyone, though? The experienced members of the group need a kick up the backside, but not at the expense of the academy stars. In terms of Arteta, while it will likely play on his mind, he can’t snatch this chance from under the noses of those deserving.
Working on that basis, here is Arsenal’s predicted lineup.
Goalkeeper & Defenders
Runar Alex Runarsson (GK) – Had looked solid, if healthily risky, on the ball in his first dabbles in the side, with fans waiting for him to be truly tested. Unfortunately, on the rare occasions he was, mistakes followed with some questionable saves and hand work. Still, it’s early days and he’ll get the nod.
Cedric (RB) – Lambasted for being too measured and unwilling to take risks, there are now some faint calls for Cedric to replace Hector Bellerin in the first team for those exact reasons. That’s jumping the gun. I do like Cedric, however. He’s a good right-back. No more, no less.
Shkodran Mustafi (CB) – Two decent enough performances in the wins over Molde and Rapid Vienna. Not going to set the world alight, nor two-foot it having gone to ground prematurely, he’s found a level that suits him – a very average one.
Pablo Mari (CB) – Showed obvious signs of rustiness against Rapid but those were soon forgotten about as Mari put in a solid shift in his first senior outing for six months. Great to have him back in order to ease the strain on Gabriel Magalhaes for the upcoming Premier League run-in.
Sead Kolasinac (LB) – Even when he plays poor teams he doesn’t look very good. Say what you want about Mustafi and co, but at least they can play OK against weaker opposition. Kolasinac can’t. Although, as long as Kieran Tierney doesn’t have to feature I’m sure Arsenal will live on Thursday.