Arsenal will look to build on their winning start in the Europa League when they host Standard Liege at the Emirates as Unai Emery targets yet another win.
Arsenal might made it look easy on the opening matchday of this season’s UEFA Europa League, as they comfortably toppled Eintracht Frankfurt away from home. But, Group F is a tough one with Standard Liege, who Arsenal face on Thursday, very much in the mix alongside Frankfurt and the Gunners.
Coming into the game against Standard Liege, it cannot be said that Arsenal are in top form despite putting together a six-game unbeaten run. Arsenal’s inconsistencies so far this season was highlighted in their dull 1-1 draw against Manchester United on Monday. Unai Emery will want his side to show composure and ensure they have a firm grip on their Europa League group.
Standard Liege also registered a win in the opening round. They beat Vitoria Setubal 2-0 despite being initially cast as the minnows in Group F. With that win, Standard are level on points with their hosts, at the top of the group. A good result will ensure this group remains wide open, especially if Frankfurt also get a favourable outcome.
Standard Liege have had a decent start to their domestic season as well, sitting second in the Jupiler Pro League, with Club Brugge taking the top spot. However, Arsenal will be a different challenge from their domestic rivals, and it will take big courage for the Belgian side to beat the Gunners or even get a result.
Team News & Tactics
There are no new changes in the Arsenal squad, with respect to injuries and suspension. Emery has a near-full strength squad at his disposal, with Alexandre Lacazette and Emile Smith Rowe the only injury-enforced absentees. Konstantinos Mavropanos is also thought to be a doubt, but his chances of starting were anyway negligible.
Emery could revert to including many youngsters in the starting lineup, as he did on Matchday 1. The likes of Joe Willock and Reiss Nelson could start, while Bukayo Saka, who was impressive against Manchester United, is likely to be rested. Emery could field an entirely different starting lineup from their match against Manchester United.
This game will also give Emery the chance to start some of his returning stars as well as those who have not seen much game-time this season. Full-back duo Kieran Tierney and Hector Bellerin could start, alongside Rob Holding, who might slot in central defence. Shkodran Mustafi is also expected to return, meaning David Luiz and Sokratis will likely get some rest.
Emiliano Martinez should replace Bernd Leno in goal. Willock could come into the midfield double pivot and start the game with Dani Ceballos by his side. Mesut Ozil could also start after being left out entirely against Manchester United.
Emery might find some room for Ainsley Maitland-Niles to start on the right side of the attack, with Nelson on the left. Gabriel Martinelli could take Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s position, leading the line for Arsenal.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-2-3-1) – Martinez; Bellerin, Mustafi, Holding, Tierney; Ceballos, Willock; Maitland-Niles, Ozil, Nelson; Martinelli
Much like Arsenal, Standard Liege have few injury problems. Their only absentees for this game are Orlando Sa and Merveille Bokadi, who is a long-term absentee. But, unlike Emery, Michel Preud’homme might not find it too appealing to ring in the changes to his side, which has been in good nick domestically.
In terms of returning stars, Zinho Vanheusden is expected to return to the side, having gradually made his recovery in the last few weeks. Kostantinos Laifis could partner the returning Vanheusden at the back, with Mergim Vojvoda and Nicolas Gavory providing support in the full-back roles.
A midfield three is touted, with Samuel Bastien, Gojko Cimirot and Paul-Jose M’Poku expected to start. On the attacking front, Mehdi Carcela-Gonzalez, Renaud Emond and Anthony Limbombe are set to form the trio.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-3-3) – Milinkovic-Savic; Vojvoda, Vanheusden, Laifis, Gavory; Bastien, Cimirot, M’Poku; Carcela-Gonzalez, Emond, Limbombe
- Arsenal have been victorious in all four of their encounters with Standard Liege in European competition, netting 15 goals in the process.
- Standard Liege have lost on seven of their eight trips to England in all European competition, with the only exception being a 2-2 draw with Everton during the 2008-09 UEFA Cup.
- Arsenal are looking to win six consecutive home European matches (excluding qualifiers) for the first time at the Emirates, and the first time since winning seven in a row between March 2001 and February 2002 at Highbury.
- Only FC Astana (3) and AZ Alkmaar (4) had fewer efforts at goal on Matchday 1 of this season’s Europa League than Standard Liège (5), but the Belgians scored with two of those five shots.
- Arsenal boss Unai Emery has won 18 of his last 20 home Europa League matches across spells with Sevilla and the Gunners (W18 D1 L1)
Player To Watch
It might be a long shot to think Hector Bellerin’s unavailability since last January has affected Arsenal. But it has, as Bellerin’s absence has coincided with inconsistent form from Arsenal. Now that the Spaniard is back in the mix, it remains to be seen if Emery will be able to use him freely.
Bellerin should take the Standard Liege game as an excellent opportunity to remind the manager what he has missed so far. Additionally, Bellerin will also have a like-for-like player on the opposite flank in Kieran Tierney, with the duo expected to provide a different dimension to Arsenal’s play. Keeping the focus on Bellerin, it will be vital to see how he performs on his first start.
Arsenal 2-0 Standard Liege
Arsenal have home advantage as well as their manager’s approach, which will enable the Spaniard to field a rather fresh, but experienced squad. The likes of Mesut Ozil, Dani Ceballos, and Gabriel Martinelli will relish such a chance, while youngsters like Joe Willock and Reiss Nelson will see this as an opportunity to impress Emery further. Expect Arsenal to win this one comfortably.
Unlike Arsenal, Standard Liege are not expected to make wholesale changes, meaning the team might be at risk of getting tired quickly. This is the kind of situation the Gunners are experts in taking advantage of. The Hard Tackle predicts a comfortable 2-0 win for the hosts.