Arsenal will look to extend their perfect record in the Europa League when they welcome Vitoria de Guimaraes to the Emirates on Thursday.
The UEFA Europa League Group Stage reaches its halfway stage this week, with all 32 teams in action on Thursday. Group F leaders Arsenal will be looking to consolidate their place atop the table when they play hosts to Vitoria de Guimaraes at the Emirates Stadium.
Their performances might not have been too inspiring. But, Arsenal have still managed to lose just two games so far this season, the latest being a shock 1-0 defeat at the hands of Sheffield United on Monday. In the Europa League, however, the Gunners are yet to drop a single point, having won each of their first two games thus far.
Vitoria de Guimaraes, on the other hand, are rock bottom in Group F after facing defeat against both Eintracht Frankfurt and Standard Liege. Back home, though, the Vimaranenses are in a much better state, as they currently sit fourth on the Primeira Liga table, winning each of their last three games.
Arsenal and Vitoria SC will be locking horns for the first time ever on Thursday and ahead of their maiden meeting, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Unai Emery has a near-full strength squad to choose from ahead of the visit of Vitoria de Guimaraes. On Thursday, the only player unavailable for Arsenal will be Reiss Nelson, who will be out of action for three more weeks due to a knee injury.
Nelson was likely to start in a heavily rotated side, as is customary in Europa League games. But, in his absence, Nicolas Pepe should continue in the side, with Bukayo Saka being the other winger for Arsenal. Alexandre Lacazette is fully fit now, but is likely to be preserved till the Gunners’ Premier League fixture against Crystal Palace this weekend.
With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang expected to be rested as well, Gabriel Martinelli will lead the line for Arsenal against Vitoria SC. Reprising the no. 10 role, should be Mesut Ozil, who could get a rare chance in the starting lineup.
Joe Willock, who struggled to make an impact in the 1-0 loss to Sheffield United, will likely get another opportunity, this time as part of a midfield double pivot, where he ought to be more at home. Willock should have Lucas Torreira for company, with the Uruguayan another player who will be desperate to get back in the manager’s good books.
At the back, Arsenal fans will be glad to see Kieran Tierney and Hector Bellerin back in the side, with the two full-backs still making their way back to peak sharpness. Rob Holding and Shkodran Mustafi will partner up at the heart of the Arsenal defence, with Emiliano Martinez taking his place in goal against Vitoria SC.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Martinez; Bellerin, Mustafi, Holding, Tierney; Torreira, Willock; Pepe, Ozil, Saka; Martinelli
Vitoria de Guimaraes
Unlike his counterpart, Ivo Vieira has an injury crisis to deal with ahead of the trip to the English capital. Against Arsenal on Thursday, the Vitoria de Guimaraes manager will be without as many as 11 first-team players, with every department being affected by the spate of injuries.
Goalkeeper Jhonatan is yet to feature this season due to a fractured arm, while fellow custodian Miguel Oliveira is out with a knee injury. Among the goalkeepers who are available, Douglas Jesus is expected to pip Miguel Silva to start between the sticks against Arsenal.
There are a couple of concerns in defence as well, with right-backs Falaye Sacko and Victor Garcia sidelined due to their respective muscle injuries. Lucas Soares remains the only fit right-back at the disposal of the Vitoria SC boss and therefore picks himself. On the opposite flank, Rafa Soares is likely to start, with Pedrao and Edmond Tapsoba forming the central defensive partnership.
Midfield is affected the most by the injury crisis, with as many as five players ruled out for the trip to face Arsenal, namely Alhassan Wakaso (knee), Al Musrati (muscle injury), Andre Andre (achilles), Joseph Amoah (hip) and Joao Carlos Teixeira (unspecified) all ruled out. Pepe, Mikel Agu and Denis Will Poha should comprise the three-man midfield unit.
The final two fitness issues for the visitors concern Ola John (hamstring) and Aziz (knee). The front three is unlikely to be tinkered with much, with Leo Bonatini leading the line for Vitoria de Guimaraes, flanked by Davidson and Rochinha, who should replace Marcus Edwards.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Jesus; Lucas Soares, Tapsoba, Pedrao, Rafa Soares; Pepe, Agu, Poha; Rochinha, Bonatini, Davidson
- Arsenal are unbeaten in their last five meetings with Portuguese opponents at home (W4 D1), scoring 17 goals and conceding none.
- Vitoria de Guimaraes are winless in their seven away matches in the Europa League (D2 L5). Excluding qualifiers, they last tasted victory in any European competition on the road back in September 2005 at Wisla Krakow in the UEFA Cup first round.
- Excluding qualifiers, Arsenal’s current six-game winning run at home is their longest in European competition since the Gunners won seven straight Champions League matches at Highbury between March 2001 and February 2002.
- Vitoria SC have won just one of their previous five matches (D2 L2) against English teams in European competition, beating Aston Villa in 1983.
- Only Slovan Bratislava’s Andraz Sporar (4) has been directly involved in more goals in the Europa League this season than Arsenal’s Gabriel Martinelli, who scored twice and assisted on his European debut for the Gunners last time out.
Player to Watch
It has been a trial by fire for Mesut Ozil this season. After being embroiled in off-the-field issues at the onset of the season, his fitness has been called into question, keeping him out of the side as a result. Now out of favour with Unai Emery, Ozil is only likely to get rare opportunities as part of the starting lineup.
Vitoria de Guimaraes are one of the easier opponents that Arsenal will face this season and Ozil could, thus, have the chance to dominate and make a point to Emery. With his Arsenal future being uncertain, the clock will be ticking and Ozil needs to do something to address that soon.
Arsenal 2-0 Vitoria de Guimaraes
Vitoria de Guimaraes are one of the worst sides in the Europa League this season and Arsenal should have very little trouble getting past their Portuguese visitors, despite their own recent troubles. Gabriel Martinelli has been in fine touch early into his career with the North Londoners and the young Brazilian could make an impact again.
Another Europa League clean sheet could be in the offing for the Gunners, who ought to be comfortable on the night. The Hard Tackle predicts a 2-0 win for Arsenal, who will take a step closer to booking their place in the knockout stages with the result.