Arsenal host Slavia Prague at the Emirates in the first leg of their Europa League Quarterfinal matchup. The “success” of the Gunners’ season rests almost solely on winning the Europa League, so a strong performance in the home leg is a must-have for Mikel Arteta’s side.
The clubs have met twice before, back in the 2007 Champions League group stage. The Gunners hung 7 goals on the visitors to win 7-0 and drew 0-0 in Prague. Slavia knocked out Rangers in the last round, Leicester the round before, and came second to Bayer Leverkusen in the group stage. They play a high press, heavy pressure style, which has given opponents trouble but has also left them vulnerable to pacey attackers making north-south runs.
This is a match where I would very much like to see Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang playing through the middle. His movement and pace is tailor-made to get in behind Slavia Prague’s defenders. Martin Odegaard, whose ankle his been bothering him since injuring it on international duty, is a question mark for today’s match. If he’s not fit, I’d also really like to see Nicolas Pépé get the nod on the right (or the left) with Emile Smith Rowe through the middle, who has recovered from the knock that kept him out at the weekend.
The problem is the left side of the midfield three. The easy solution is to leave a now-fit Bukayo Saka there and play Cedric Soares in place of Kieran Tierney (who is expected to miss 4-6 weeks). But in limited time at left back, Cedric has struggled, much moreso than he has on the right side.
So if you don’t play Cedric at left back, Bukayo Saka is the likely candidate, but then who plays on the left in the midfield? It would probably be Aubameyang, which takes him out of the middle, leading the line, which I would rather not see. In that scenario, Alexandre Lacazette leads the line.
For the record, I think that is what we will see today. Saka at left back, Aubameyang in front of him, and Lacazette leading the line. I wish it were different.
Slavia Prague’s defensive vulnerability will be magnified by the absence of Simon Deli and David Hovorka through injury, and Ondrej Kudela through a provisional one-game suspension while UEFA investigates the accusations that he racially abused Rangers midfielder Glen Kamara. Kudela was already supposedly injured and sick from the retribution elbow to the head delivered by Gareth Bale in the Wales-Czech Republic match. Kudela did not travel to London with the team, which I’m sure had nothing to do with the claims of abuse and British authorities suggested he’d be questioned about them should he turn up in England. Pending the results of the investigation, that provisional one-match suspension could be lengthened, as well.
Slavia may have the services of their first choice keeper Ondrej Kolář who suffered a nasty facial injury and fracture from a boot to the face against Rangers. Kolář was pictured training in a protective mask at the Emirates yesterday.
Arsenal - Leno, Bellerin, Holding, Gabriel, Cedric, Xhaka, Partey , Smith Rowe, Saka, Willian, Lacazette
Slavia Prague - Kolar, Boril, Zima, Holes, Bah, Olayinka, Provod, Hromada, Stanciu, Oscar, Sima
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