Arsenal will take on Portuguese outfit Vitoria SC in their fourth UEFA Europa League Group F encounter on Wednesday afternoon.
Arsenal will be aiming to recover from a tumultuous week when they lock horns with Vitoria de Guimaraes at Estadio D. Afonso Henriques in the UEFA Europa League on Wednesday, rather than Thursday evening. The fixture has been moved due to safety reasons and to reduce traffic as Vitoria’s neighbours Braga are facing Besiktas at home on Thursday.
The reverse fixture at the Emirates last month was an entertaining affair, with Arsenal riding on the back of Nicolas Pepe’s heroics to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Unai Emery’s men have failed to win their subsequent three fixtures in all competitions though, with their most recent game ending in a disappointing 1-1 draw to Wolves, heaping pressure on the manager.
However, Arsenal have maintained a perfect record in the Europa League so far, winning all three of their fixtures. And Emery will be hoping that the European competition once again helps relieve some of the pressure as the Gunners look to take a step closer to qualification for the knockout stages.
Vitoria SC, rooted to the bottom of Group F, are still in search of their first point in Europe and will be aiming to make the most of Arsenal’s recent struggles. Heading into the game on the back of a 1-1 draw against Moreirense, Ivo Vieira’s side will want to grab all three points at home, having ran the Premier League giants so close last time out.
Ahead of the latest Group F meeting between Vitoria and Arsenal, we at The Hard Tackle take a closer look at both the teams;
Team News & Tactics
The home team will be without the services of as many as nine players on Wednesday afternoon, including the likes of Ola John, Victor Garcia, Miguel Oliveira, Jhonatan Luiz and Valerii Bondarenko. Manager Vieira is likely to name a lineup very similar to the one that took the field at the Emirates last month.
Miguel Silva ought to continue between the sticks for Vitoria SC, with Frederico Venancio and Edmond Tapsoba lining up at the heart of the defence. Florent Hanin should start at left-back again, but with Garcia out Falaye Sacko also sidelined, winger Rochinha could feature as a makeshift right-back like he did against Moreirense.
Mikel Agu will provide protection to the backline from the centre of the park and will be supported by on-loan 22-year-old midfielder Denis Will Poha. Teenager Andre Almeida will take up the third slot in the middle and look to provide the forward thrust for the hosts.
Former Tottenham academy starlet Marcus Edwards, who scored in the reverse fixture, should feature on the right wing for Vitoria again, while Davidson, who was a real handful for the Gunners to contend with last time out, should continue on the left. Leading the line for the Portuguese outfit will once again be Bruno Duarte.
Probable Lineup (4-5-1): Silva; Rochinha, Tapsoba, Venancio, Hanin; Edwards, Almeida, Agu, Poha, Davidson; Duarte
Arsenal have a clean bill of health heading into the midweek encounter. But, as has been the case for the Europa League, Emery is expected to make a host of changes to the team that drew against Wolves at the weekend. The biggest question remains whether Granit Xhaka will be reinstated to the side after missing the last two matches, after his controversial actions.
Emery is likely to revert to a 4-2-3-1 formation against Vitoria SC with Emiliano Martinez starting between the sticks, affording regular goalkeeper Bernd Leno a chance to rest. The entire backline will be in for a shake-up with Hector Bellerin and Sead Kolasinac starting as the full-backs while Shkodran Mustafi and Rob Holding will pair up at the centre.
While Wednesday’s game in front of only a few hundred travelling supporters could be viewed as a good chance to ease Xhaka back into the fold, the Swiss midfielder is unlikely to start. Instead, the two-man midfield pivot for Arsenal is likely to comprise of Lucas Torreira and youngster Joe Willock.
Mesut Ozil has been impressive since returning from the cold, but is likely to be given a breather on Wednesday after starting back-to-back games. Emile Smith Rowe is expected to slot in as the No. 10 for the Gunners in Portugal, flanked by Nicolas Pepe, who was an unused substitute against Wolves, and youngster Bukayo Saka.
Gabriel Martinelli, who has scored seven goals in eight games since joining Arsenal, ought to continue to lead the line for Arsenal in the Europa League.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Martinez; Bellerin, Mustafi, Holding, Kolasinac; Torreira, Willock; Pepe, Smith Rowe, Saka; Martinelli
- Vitoria de Guimaraes have only won one of their eight previous meetings with English sides in all competitions (D3 L4), beating Aston Villa 1-0 in September 1983.
- Arsenal have only won one of their seven away games against Portuguese sides (D3 L3), though it was their last such match at Sporting CP in last season’s Europa League.
- Vitoria have lost all three of their Europa League group games so far this season. They are looking to avoid four consecutive defeats in all European competition for the first time since September 1998.
- Arsenal are looking to win their first four group stage games in a Europa League or Champions League campaign for just the second time, after having won their first five in the 2005-06 Champions League.
- Should Gabriel Martinelli score on Wednesday, he will become only the second Arsenal player after Marouane Chamakh to score in each of his first three appearances in a major European competition for the Gunners.
Player to Watch
Having arrived at Arsenal amid huge expectations, the Ivorian attacker has made a rather tepid start to life with the Premier League giants. While there have been fleeting glimpses of his brilliance, Pepe has failed to make consistent impact for his new team as of yet.
Pepe’s most valuable contribution in an Arsenal shirt till date came in the reverse fixture against Vitoria last time out, as he dispatched two sensational free-kicks after coming on as a substitute to take his team over the line at the Emirates. Likely to be handed a start in Portugal, the attacker will be hoping to chip in with more goals as he looks to establish himself at Arsenal.
Vitoria SC 1-2 Arsenal
Vitoria came so close to defeating Arsenal in the reverse fixture and will back themselves to come out on top at home, where they have lost just once in all competitions this season. The Gunners, on the other hand, have picked up just one win in their last six away matches and given the recent run of results, will be under intense pressure to deliver on Wednesday.
It promises to be another high-octane encounter like the last one between these two teams. But, Arsenal, with their backs against the walls, should produce a strong reaction, which is why we at The Hard Tackle are predicting a 1-2 away win for Unai Emery’s men, lifting some pressure off the manager.