On Thursday we come to the end of the lovely comfort that has been the 20-21 Europa League group stage. With last week’s 4-1 win Arsenal clinched top spot in Group B and a place in the knockout rounds set to start in February. The Gunners are a perfect 5-0 in the competition scoring 16 and only letting in three. While the knockout rounds will prove a much more difficult test, these midweek games have been a nice reprieve from a difficult league run and a chance to see some of the younger players and typical backups shine.
Thursday’s opponent, Dundalk, is winless in group play and although they have zero points and are eliminated from the competition, will still be playing for pride and the hopeful upset of Arsenal at their home ground in Ireland.
Next Monday Mikel Arteta and the Arsenal will find out their first opponent in the knockout round. But before that he has another chance to test out some key players and potential second half of the season bright spots. So does he opt for a familiar approach or a squad that resembles the U23s?
Predicted Starting XI
- Alexandre Lacazette
- Jordan Mceneff
- Bukayo Saka
- Folarin Balogun
- Emile Smith Rowe
- Calum Chambers
- Miguel Azeez
- Dani Ceballos
- Héctor Bellerín
- Joel Lopez
- Matt Macey
Notes on the XI:
- Left Out: Gabriel Martinelli, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Granit Xhaka, Kieran Tierney, Bernd Leno, Gabriel, Rob Holding
- Injured: David Luiz (status unknown, head injury), Thomas Partey (status unknown, but likely out following his exit on Sunday returning from a thigh injury)
- For the bench I’ve included a number of U23 players. First place in the group is secured, but I still see Arteta using mostly senior players from the start as he tries to find answers for Arsenal’s missing attack. However, I’d expect a number of young Gunners to enter during the second half and several key players left out as they on won’t be needed.
- As for the starting lineup, I’ve got nearly the exact same side that started last week. The one change is Joe Willock in for Lacazette at the #10 role. This entire 11 was out of the starting XI in Sunday’s 2-0 loss and should see this as yet another case for why they should be getting more Premier League minutes.
- Thursday’s no risk situation allows Arteta to give Mari another full 90, test Maitland-Niles in the midfield role, and add Willock to the attack. We should anticipate another probing Arsenal front line with Nketiah, Pepe and Nelson eager to get on the score sheet - all who could move back into the league’s starting lineup in the weeks ahead.
How to watch
Thursday (12/10) at 12:55 pm ET / 9:55 am PT on CBS All Access.