Arsenal will be hoping to take another significant step towards their march to lifting the Europa League this season when they host CSKA Moscow.
Arsenal have a clear mission this season, to win the Europa League at all costs. This competition is their best and by far the only visible chance to get back into the Champions League. The Gunners’ have endured a terrible season, probably their worst under Arsene Wenger, and the Europa League looks like a saving grace for the side.
Arsenal suffered four back-to-back defeats for the first time under Wenger in February. Since then things have begun to steady, with Arsenal recording four wins on the bounce in all competitions. Last weekend’s win over Stoke was their first consecutive wins in the league since November, along with two wins over AC Milan in the previous round.
Arsenal dispatched Milan with relative ease as they cruised to an aggregate 5-1 win over the Italians. While Arsenal will be more than pleased not to draw other big teams present in the competition, still, they should by no means underestimate the Russian side, for they could cause unexpected damage to Arsenal.
CSKA Moscow are well placed in the Russian title race and showed exceptional character to beat Lyon in the last round of the Europa League. They will not, by any means be taking the Arsenal match lightly and will likely field a strong starting-XI at the Emirates.
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Arsene Wenger’s decision to rest many key players for the Stoke game was a clear indication of his priorities. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Alexandre Lacazette, Alex Iwobi and Laurent Koscielny were all rested or started from the bench against Stoke and all of whom will likely start against CSKA.
Petr Cech is the only primary injury concern. Hence David Ospina will feature in goal for Arsenal, as he did in the last round. Arsenal’s problems, however, lie in the striker department, with Danny Welbeck going off against Stoke with a back problem and Arsene Wenger still unsure about Lacazette’s fitness to start a game yet.
Lacazette, however, played exceptionally well after coming on for 30 minutes against Stoke, as well as scoring Arsenal’s third goal. There’s suggestion that Welbeck too could be fit for the CSKA game, but only late decisions from Wenger would reveal the players who would start.
Probable Starting-XI (4-3-3) – Ospina; Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Xhaka, Elneny, Ramsey; Mkhitaryan, Ozil, Lacazette
Viktor Vassin will play no role in this game as he is sidelined for the rest of the season after rupturing his cruciate ligaments. Another sure absentee will be Astemir Gordyushenko who is sidelined until June. Mario Fernandes is a significant doubt for CSKA as he has only just returned to training from his hamstring injury.
CSKA are well in the fight for the Russian title, but that is not going to deter them from fielding a strong starting-XI against Arsenal, as they aim to cause another upset away from home, as they did against Lyon in the last round.
Probable Starting-XI (3-4-3) – Akinfeev; A. Berezutski, Ignashevich, V. Berezutski; Nababkin, Natcho, Golovin, Schennikov; Dzagoev, Wernbloom, Musa
- CSKA are unbeaten against Arsenal in European competitions, with a win and a draw against the Gunners so far.
- Arsenal are yet to score a goal against CSKA, failing to do so during their two meetings in the 2007/07 Champions League group stage.
- Arsenal have not conceded in their last three home games against Russian sides.
- During springtime, Arsenal have conceded 18-goals in their last seven home games in European competitions.
- CSKA have won five of their seven away matches in Europe this season.
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Lacazette started the season brightly, scoring three goals in his first three games at home. But his away form has been worrisome and was then followed by a goal drought that lasted for nine games. Lacazette has been sidelined with a knee injury, followed by surgery since early February and returned only against Stoke last weekend.
In between all that, Arsenal signed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in a record deal from Borussia Dortmund in January, which seemed to have undermined Lacazette’s contribution and efficiently relegated him to the bench. With the Gabonese ineligible in the Europa League, this is Lacazette’s chance to show his worth.
Danny Welbeck has never been a solid starter, and thus Lacazette’s return from injury has been timely for Wenger, and the striker will likely start. A place in France’s World Cup squad is also in the question, and a good showing in the Europa League will further enhance his chances to get into Didier Deschamp’s squad.
Arsenal 2-0 CSKA Moscow
Arsenal, despite their falling off grace in February have stood up in the face of crisis and proved they just can’t be written off yet. Wins against Milan, as well as Watford and Stoke in the league, has brought in a renewed vigour into the side. Arsenal have since scored 11 goals in their last four games in all competitions and are likely to continue that run.
CSKA have injury troubles and are tasked with beating Arsenal at the Emirates, and it’s quite a difficult task, to begin with. Arsenal sure have the quality to put CSKA’s defence to the sword and record a comfortable win at home.