Arsenal host Slavia Prague at the Emirates Stadium on Thursday for the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final tie. Here is the predicted lineup.
Mikel Arteta has faced plenty of scrutiny throughout his time in the hot seat. In fact, as scathing as the criticism is now, it still isn’t as bad as the period before Christmas where nothing whatsoever was going the manager’s, or the team’s way.
Put in another insipid display as witnessed against Liverpool on Thursday, however, and unprecedented levels of animosity will be felt in north London, the like of which Arteta will have little response to.
He needs a performance from his players. A colossal one.
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Arsenal predicted lineup vs Slavia Prague: Bukayo Saka at left-back for Europa League quarter-final clash
Part of the reasons for being so uninspired against Liverpool was down to personnel, a valid point to some degree but not enough to mask the inept display entirely.
Therefore it’s welcome news to have Bukayo Saka back in training alongside Granit Xhaka, another player whose absence was keenly felt on the weekend. Emile Smith Rowe was also out through injury, but has been confirmed to be available for selection.
In defence there is no David Luiz, who underwent minor knee surgery to fix an issue picked up in training and, love him or loathe him, he can perform a role in this Arsenal team no other central defender can.
There is also an issue to deal with up front as, should Saka be available, his technical security is vital as the bridge between defence and attack even though him being naturally left footed would help counterbalance the loss of Kieran Tierney.
Does Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang get another nod? Some weak outings out wide have done little to help his case, thus he could be moved back to centre-forward where he can prey on a makeshift Slavia Prague central defence.
Whoever Arteta picks, they’ve got to get a result.
Goalkeeper & Defenders
Bernd Leno (GK) – The German has come under stick again recently for a couple of weaker moments in goal. With a defence conceding as many quality chances to the opposition it’s hardly helping his case. Regardless of all that, he’s the best Arsenal have.
Calum Chambers (RB) – Earning his place in the team following a solid 45 minutes against West Ham, Chambers looked well off the pace against Liverpool and struggled to contend with Andrew Robertson and Sadio Mane. Hector Bellerin has been nowhere near the first team of late and it would be strange for him to come straight back in for this.
Rob Holding (CB) – Back in the side after a lengthy and unenforced absence, Rob Holding didn’t cover himself in glory last time out even if few players do in a team lacking any structure and stability against forwards of that quality.
Arteta doesn’t really have choice for this one without trying something different.
Gabriel (CB) – This partnership is not the most solid of duos. The two don’t complement each other as well as Mari and Holding do, even if Gabriel is the best of the three. However, Arteta will choose the two for their individual qualities, not the collective ones.
Cedric Soares (LB) – For the way Arteta wants his team to play, he won’t like making this decision. All left-backs should be left footed, and in this system with the opposing full-back tucking in when the other one provides width, it’s essential they can perform multiple roles.
The issue is that Arsenal are a far better attacking side with Saka up front, in terms of retention and creativity. For that reason, the boss will likely select Cedric.