Arsenal will begin their first European campaign in the post-Arsene Wenger era at home against Ukrainian outfit Vorskla Poltava on Thursday night.
Unai Emery recently suggested that the Europa League is a significant competition, with the winners getting the chance to play in the Champions League next term. With clear suggestions that the Arsenal boss will be taking the competition seriously, one can expect them to make quite a splash, starting Thursday.
Arsenal came close to reaching the Europa League final last season, but eventually succumbed to eventual winners, Atletico Madrid in the semi-finals. The Gunners will be looking to continue their winning run which has seen them achieve victories in their last three games in the Premier League as well as getting a grip on their group early on.
Vorskla are in this season’s Europa League thanks to their third place finish in the Ukrainian Premier League last season. It would be their seventh European campaign and their first in the Europa League group stages since the 2011-12 season, when they only picked up two points to crash out.
Against Arsenal, they face a tough first test after being back into the European scene and in the Europa League group stages. The Hard Tackle now takes a closer look at the encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Unlike his predecessor, Arsene Wenger, Unai Emery is expected to name a strong lineup, and not gamble with fringe players, like the Frenchman did last season. Considering that, Emery would likely play fringe and youth players when there is security at hand, and that could be achieved with early wins and a considerable lead in the group.
Arsenal are at full strength and have no fresh injury concerns after their last game. But, Unai Emery has many players of quality who have seen far less action than anticipated. The likes of Bernd Leno, Stephan Lichthsteiner, Mohamed Elneny, Danny Welbeck and Rob Holding could all look to play from the start.
While the players mentioned have a good chance to start, Emery is very much expected to name Lucas Torreira in the starting lineup for the very first time, with the Uruguayan so far putting in some impressive displays for the Gunners. While there could be some exciting changes to midfield and attack, Emery is likely to retain strikers, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-2-3-1): Leno; Lichtsteiner, Mustafi, Sokratis, Monreal; Torreira, Elneny; Welbeck, Ozil, Aubameyang; Lacazette
Vorskla manager Vasyl Sachko will be looking to field a strong starting lineup against the Gunners for he will be looking to make a positive start upon their return to the Europa League. Sachko should go with the same lineup that beat FC Karpaty Lviv in the Ukrainian League last time out.
Sachko will field striker Nicolas Careca, who is on loan from Gremio. Artur and Vladyslav Kulach are the other key men, in defence and attack, respectively. Kulach is reportedly still suffering from the after effects of a knock he sustained recently, but is expected to shake it off to start against Arsenal.
Sachko is expected to have his standard 4-4-1-1 formation to thwart off any potential attack from the Gunners.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-4-1-1): Shust; Perduta, Dallku, Chesnakov, Artur; Kobakhidze, Sharpar, Skylar, Rebenok; Kulach; Careca
- Arsenal and Vorskla Poltava will face each other for the very first time in their history.
- Vorskla are playing only their second Europa League campaign.
- This game will also be Vorskla’s first ever encounter against an English club.
- Unai Emery and Giovanni Trapattoni are the only managers to win the UEFA Europa League thrice, although the Arsenal boss is the only one to have done it in consecutive seasons.
- Arsenal’s last game against Ukrainian opposition saw the Gunners record a 5-1 win over Shakhtar Donetsk back in 2010-11 Champions League group stage.
Player to Watch
When Bernd Leno signed for Arsenal during the summer window, little did he expect to be Arsenal’s second-choice goalkeeper, something he has been so far, with the German unable to dislodge veteran Petr Cech so far. But, Unai Emery is ready to give him his chance to impress, albeit in the Europa League.
For Leno, this is a fantastic opportunity to show what he is capable of, and produce a performance that would be noted by his manager going forward. A clean sheet and a dominant display will do him a world of good, and something the goalkeeper himself would be angling, after spending a lot of time so far warming the Arsenal bench.
Arsenal 3-o Vorskla Poltava
Vorskla might be strangers for Arsenal, and many cases in the past indicate that the Gunners could be surprised by an opponent they know very little about. But, Unai Emery will ensure he fields a team largely comprising of first-team stars to ensure such a situation does not arrive.
Additionally, Arsenal have the quality to dismantle sides like Vorskla, especially with strike duo Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang starting. Expect Arsenal to brush aside Vorskla at the Emirates and begin their Europa League campaign on a winning note.