[Updated 11/25: Arsenal’s team news released on Wednesday noted that Willian has not traveled with the squad to Norway. As such I’ve added Jordan McEneff to the bench in place of Willian.]
Twice this season Arsenal has turned weekend Premier League disappointment into Europa League success. Now the Gunners get not only another chance to put a foot forward, but create clear distance in Group B. At the start of the month Arsenal cruised past Molde 4-1 with goals from Pepe and Joe Willock to top the group and now travel Norway for the return leg.
A win on Thursday keeps a perfect record in group play and would move Arsenal six points clear with only two matches to go. A favorable result in the Rapid Vienna v. Dundalk match could see Arsenal clinch a spot in the knockout rounds and open the door for younger players to get first team action in the final group stage games (i.e. Folarin Balogun & Emile Smith Rowe). With five, potentially six, players ruled out, Pepe’s Premier League suspension to consider, and the expanded Europe League bench, how much will Mikel Arteta push the attack?
Predicted Starting XI
- Alexandre Lacazette
- Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
- Folarin Balogun
- Jordan McEneff
- Emile Smith Rowe
- Ben Cottrell
- Rob Holding
- Callum Chambers
- Héctor Bellerín
- Kieran Tierney
- Bernd Leno
Notes on the XI:
- Left Out: Bukayo Saka (awaiting injury update)
- Injured: Thomas Partey (Thigh), Mohamed Elneny (COVID), Sead Kolasinac (COVID) Pablo Mari (back in full training), Gabriel Martinelli (returning to light training)
- With the fixture congestion and recent international windows several key players need to be rested on Thursday and saved for the weekend against Wolves - Leno, Aubameyang, Tierney, Bellerin, & Gabriel.
- Likewise several players are due a start and Thursday provides the perfect opportunity - Runarsson, Nketiah, Nelson, Maitland-Niles, Cedric, and Willock, even though we saw him on the weekend.
- With Holding and Gabriel getting the start and clean sheet against Leeds on Sunday, you expected to see them again against Wolves on Sunday and thus Mustafi and Luiz rotate in here. But with Kolasinac out with COVID, Tierney needing a rest, and Chambers still on his way back to full fitness, Arteta should stick to a back four against this opposition. Alternatively, Xhaka could play as the LCB, shifting to a 3-4-3 with a midfield line of Maitland-Niles, Willock, Ceballos, Cedric.
- On the front line, Reiss Nelson had a great outing in the last Europa League match which should earn a start Thursday. Up top Nketiah would be the preferred option, but will Mikel sit Lacazette twice in a row? He should, as Alexandre would be a suitable second option and probably returns to the starting lineup against Wolves.
- Then there is Pepe. Sunday’s incident was unfortunate, but a rare moment for the player. It was his first career red card for club or country in over 230 matches. However, factors indicate that Pepe should start again Thursday. He is the second most productive attacker for Arsenal so far this season (three goals and two assists). Much of that has come in the Europa League so why not roll the dice that that trend continues. Second, he can’t play in the Premier League for the next three weeks, unless there is an unlikely reversal for his red card, so use him where he can play while others will need to step up on the weekends. Third, the options are limited. Willian’s form is off, Saka may be injured, but if not, should be rested, and it’s unlikely Arteta plays Nketiah or Lacazette out of their typical #9 role. Which leaves Nelson and Pepe as the the favorites, unless he surprises us with a start for Folarin Balogun or Emile Smith Rowe, both of which would be met with support from the fan base.
- A strong day for the Gunners hopefully sees both Balogun and Smith Rowe make substitution appearances in the second half, especially with the attack still searching for its rhythm back. Although Arteta could easily decide rest one of Xhaka and Ceballos thinking of the weekend ahead and allow Smith Rowe a start in midfield with Willock.
- The last bench spot appears to be between U23 players Miguel Azeez and Ben Cottrell. Both play in central midfield mostly, with Cottrell picking up 2 goals and 3 assists so far this season you’d think he would be slightly ahead. With another option being that both make the bench if Calum Chambers isn’t ready for a spot there yet.
- Or perhaps Arteta surprises everyone and gives us the Arsenal Academy special. Who is up for a starting lineup with the entire attack and midfield consisting of Arsenal youth products: Balogun-Nketiah-Nelson, Smith Rowe-Willock-Maitland-Niles-Azeez OR Cottrell?
How to watch
Thursday (11/26) at 12:55 pm ET / 9:55 am PT on CBS All Access.