After some dismal results in the Premier League, Arsenal will be looking at the Europa League as a genuine chance to get back into the Champions League next season as they face Ostersunds.
As the Premier League season enters its crunch phase, Arsenal find themselves in a tricky position. They are 6th on the table, 8 points behind 4th placed Chelsea and as things stand, winning the Europa League might resemble the only way for them to get back into the Champions League next season.
Their first hurdle comes in the way of Swedish side Ostersunds, who are ready to welcome the Gunners into their cold ground, where temperatures hit a minus 3 degree Celcius on Monday. The Swedish side posted a funny sneak peek into what the Gunners might just be expecting.
Ostersunds are into European competition for the very first time in their history. The club was only founded in 1996, some 30 days after Arsene Wenger’s appointment as Arsenal manager. But they are someone who should not be taken lightly after dispatching Galatasaray and Hertha Berlin to reach this stage
Arsenal enter into this last 32 tie with some injury concerns. Alexandre Lacazette has been sidelined for the next six weeks with a knee injury after the club confirmed he has gone through surgery. Arsene Wenger, nevertheless, will be fielding a strong Starting-XI, although he has played his second string squad for most of the group stages part.
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Since the group stages ended in December, Gabriel Somi and Fouad Bachirou have departed Ostersunds, with Dennis Widgren set to play at left-back in place of the former, and new signing Tesfaldet Tekie signed to replace the latter and is set to feature against Arsenal.
Strikers Saman Ghoddos and Alhaji Gero both have two goals apiece in the competition for Ostersunds. Ghoddos was also the top scorer in last season’s Allsvenskan for the Swedish side.
Ostersunds have only played one competitive game since the Europa League group stages, last Friday, even having had played few friendlies in between.
Probable Starting-XI (4-4-2): Keita; Mensiro, Pettersson, Mukiibi, Widgren; Nouri, Edwards, Tekie, Hopcutt; Sema, Ghoddos
Arsenal are expected to start a strong team, despite some injury concerns in their squad. With Alexandre Lacazette set to be out through injury for six weeks and new signing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang not eligible to participate in the Europa League, Wenger will have to start Danny Welbeck.
Aaron Ramsey missed the North London Derby, but despite returning to training, he is unlikely to be risked, meaning a run for Wilshere-Xhaka to perform again, with Elneny as well pencilled for a start.
In defence, Wenger could make slight changes and could give Rob Holding or Calum Chambers an opportunity in central defence.
Probable starting lineup (4-2-3-1): Ospina; Bellerin, Koscielny, Mustafi, Monreal; Xhaka, Wilshere; Mkhitaryan, Ozil, Iwobi; Welbeck
- Arsenal has never lost to a Swedish Club in their history.
- Ostersunds have played only one game between the end of Group stage till now, along with two friendlies in between that time.
- The Match is expected to be played in sub-zero temperatures in Sweden
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Mkhitaryan tasted Europa League glory with Manchester United last season and is set to feature again in the tournament with his new club. After a mixed start to his Gunners’ career, where he registered three assists on his first full start but put in a disappointing shift at the North London Derby, he would be gunning for glory.
Mkhitaryan will be keen to prove his doubters wrong and produce a good performance against minnows Ostersunds in the last 32 tie.
With ample support from Ozil and Iwobi in the attacking area, Mkhitaryan could also bond with Welbeck on the pitch for the very first time. In the absence of Lacazette, the Englishman could play a vital role in the next few Europa League ties.
Ostersunds 0-3 Arsenal
Despite the cold weather conditions the Gunners are set to face along with the Swedish side, Arsenal’s quality and need to progress through in the competition will see them register a comfortable victory in the last 32 tie.
The Gunners will be looking to take a sizeable advantage back to the Emirates, and Arsene Wenger would want the side to perform early on to avoid any complacency later.
The quality of Arsenal’s attack will be different to what Ostersunds have faced till now, despite their surprise victories against Galatasaray and Hertha Berlin previously in the group stages of the competition.