Arsenal travel to Belarus for their Europa League last-32 encounter with BATE Borisov as the Gunners look to take a giant step towards the next round.
BATE Borisov haven’t played a competitive game since the end of the Europa League group stages back in December, which is due to the new structure of their league that does not begin until March. The Belarusian side will now host Premier League giants Arsenal in what is their first competitive game in more than two months, with the hope that they get third time lucky and avoid defeat against the Gunners.
Borisov does have exposure of playing against a Premier League side, as they were pitted against Chelsea in the same group this season. During that phase of the campaign, after three defeats in the first four games, BATE were only considered as outsiders to qualify for the next round. However, manager Alyaksey Baha led them to victories over Vidi and PAOK, helping them finish as runners up below Chelsea.
Their opponents are Arsenal, and the North London side have been in excellent form in this season’s competition, winning five of their games and drawing the remaining one. However, it’s the Gunners’ form since December that might be a worry where the side has been inconsistent at best. However, Arsenal are the favourites to get past BATE during this two-legged encounter.
To perform well and win the Europa League could be an essential task for Arsenal, as they currently linger in 5th spot on the Premier League table. Winning the tournament will put them back into the Champions League for next season, a route that Arsenal tried to take last season only to be beaten by Atletico Madrid in the semi-finals. Unai Emery would like to take the next step and win it for the fourth time as a manager and take Arsenal back into the Champions League.
Team News & Tactics
Since the Belarusian side hasn’t played a competitive game since December, they are solely relying on their form in three friendlies they played before the Arsenal game, two of which they lost. Adding to this problem is the fact that Nikolai Signevich, scorer of three goals in the group stages, has left for Hungarian club Ferencvaros and he certainly will be missed.
New signing Bojan Dubajic could be handed his competitive debut against the Gunners, but fellow new arrivals Nemanja Milic and Dmitri Bessmertniy could be involved from the bench. Former Gunners’ midfielder Alexander Hleb is unlikely to start against his old side.
Baha will go with a 4-3-3 formation against Arsenal, with the likes of Aleksey Rios, Zakhar Volkov, Egor Filipenko, and Aleksandar Filipovic forming the backline. Dmitri Baga, Stanislav Dragun and Mirko Ivanic will form a three-man central midfield while Maksim Skavysh, Dubajic, and Igor Stasevich likely to be the trio up front.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Scherbitski; Rios, Volkov, Filipenko, Filipovic; Baga, Dragun, Ivanic; Skavysh, Dubajic, Stasevich
Unai Emery could make some changes to his starting lineup that won against Huddersfield in the Premier League. Unlike the group stages, where Emery heavily used youngsters, the manager is likely to go with his experienced bunch starting with this stage of the competition. Meaning more accomplished players are likely to see game time, while some youngsters might feature from the bench.
Arsenal have some defensive absentees including Sokratis, who is on the mend from his injury but will not feature against BATE. Hector Bellerin and Rob Holding are out for the season. Shkodran Mustafi, Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal are likely to feature in the three-man defence, with Sead Kolasinac and Ainsley Maitland-Niles as wing-backs.
Mesut Ozil and Juventus-bound Aaron Ramsey have been left out of the matchday squad by Emery. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who missed the Huddersfield trip through illness, might feature from the start after overcoming the problem. Granit Xhaka who also missed the last game with a groin problem, has travelled with the squad.
New signing Denis Suarez might be handed his first start for the club as part of the front three along with Aumabeyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Probable Lineup (3-4-3): Cech; Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Maitland-Niles, Elneny, Guendouzi, Kolasinac; Mkhitaryan, Aubameyang, Suarez
- BATE Borisov and Arsenal’s only previous encounter came last season in the Europa League group stages – the London side won both games, scoring 10 goals and conceding only two.
- BATE Borisov have lost all three of their previous home games against English clubs in European competition.
- They have never gone past the round of 32 in the Europa League, getting knocked out in 2010-11 by PSG and in 2012-13 by Fenerbahce.
- Arsenal were one of seven teams to remain unbeaten in this season’s Europa League group stages, alongside Chelsea, Dinamo Zagreb, Eintracht Frankfurt, Real Betis, Red Bull Salzburg, and Villarreal.
- Arsenal have kept a clean sheet in each of their last five Europa League games, the longest current run in the competition.
Player to Watch
Having made the switch from Barcelona to Arsenal on loan during the January transfer window, Denis Suarez has made two cameo appearances in the Premier League for the Gunners, but could be in line for his first start in Belarus on Thursday.
Suarez did not play a lot during the first half of the season at Barcelona, making just eight appearances (only 2 starts), in which he scored twice and set up one more goal. The 25-year-old possesses talent in abundance and the Europa League tie will present him with the perfect opportunity to make a solid impression for his new team.
BATE Borisov 0-3 Arsenal
Arsenal are overwhelming favourites to make it to the next round and are penciled to continue their brilliant form in the competition. The Gunners have the required firepower to oversee a BATE side that has not been in competitive action for the last two months or so, while they have been very impressive defensively in the competition as well.
BATE, on the other hand, have been fortunate enough to reach this stage of the competition, although nobody expects them to get the better of Arsenal. While they have a solid enough squad, their quality surely is far off from the North London side. Expect Arsenal to record a big win over the Belarusian side and record their sixth clean sheet in the Europa League.