Bukayo Saka and Granit Xhaka are back in contention as Arsenal lock horns with Slavia Prague in the UEFA Europa League on Thursday.
Arsenal host Slavia Prague on Thursday, hoping to resume their UEFA Europa League campaign on a strong note. Following the second leg defeat to Olympiacos, they will be definitely hoping for a clean sheet in this home leg.
Mikel Arteta, though, is facing a host of problems in the defensive unit heading into this game. While David Luiz was already out, Kieran Tierney has picked up a new knock that will keep him out for at least a month.
“We have to first make sure that he doesn’t need any surgery, which it doesn’t look like. If that’s the case, the timeframe will be around [four to six weeks]. It could have been worse because the action looks quite scary but he’s feeling better and the damage is not that bad. At the end of the day, it’s not the bad news that maybe we were expecting after the game,” Arteta said during his pre-match press conference.
Tierney’s absence should force Cedric Soares to operate at left-back while also paving the way for Hector Bellerin to continue in his preferred right-back slot. There might be a change at the heart of the Arsenal defence as well, with Pablo Mari replacing Rob Holding; the Spaniard will accompany Gabriel Magalhaes.
A positive for Arsenal, however, will be the return of Granit Xhaka, who has been cleared for Thursday after missing the Liverpool game due to illness. Xhaka’s return to midfield alongside Thomas Partey should offer some stability in the middle of the park as the Gunners look to dominate Slavia Prague this midweek.
Another boost for the hosts comes in the form of Bukayo Saka. The youngster is back in contention after missing the last game and should replace Nicolas Pepe on the right wing. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang should retain his place on the opposite flank, although there are doubts over the involvement of Martin Odegaard.
“We will assess today how he’s feeling. He’s been carrying an injury for the last two or three days since he got injured with the national team. We have a few of them from the last game when we played Liverpool, so today will be the day where we see where everybody is at, and look at who is available tomorrow,” said Arteta when asked about Odegaard’s fitness heading into this game.
It remains unlikely that the Norwegian will be risked given how important he is to the Arsenal squad. It could, though, pave the way for Emile Smith Rowe to operate in the number ten position, just behind Alexandre Lacazette.
Arsenal Predicted XI: Leno; Bellerin, Gabriel, Mari, Cedric; Xhaka, Partey; Saka, Smith Rowe, Aubameyang; Lacazette