Arsenal will be aiming to make it three wins in a row across all competitions when they play hosts to Norwegian outfit Molde in the UEFA Europa League.
Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal side will be looking to take a step closer towards qualifying for the knockout stages of the 2020/21 UEFA Europa League when they face off against Molde at the Emirates Stadium on Thursday.
Arsenal are currently sitting atop Group B in the Europa League with six points from two matches, having beaten Rapid Wien 2-1 in their opener, before defeating Dundalk 3-0 last week. This result was followed by a 1-0 win against bitter rivals Manchester United in the Premier League – their first win at Old Trafford since 2016, post which the morale will be sky-high.
Molde, too, have collected six points from their two matches in Europe having beaten Dundalk 2-1 and Rapid Wien 1-0 and are behind Arsenal in the standings due to a poorer goal difference. Currently second in the Eliteserien, Erling Moe’s men head into Thursday’s clash on the back of a 3-1 win against Mjondalen making it six victories in a row in all competitions.
This will be the first ever meeting between the two teams in any competition. And ahead of what promises to be a fascinating encounter, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both the teams.
Team News & Tactics
The big news coming out of the Arsenal camp is that defensive mainstay David Luiz is back to full fitness after missing the last two matches and is in contention to feature. However, Pablo Mari and Calum Chambers remain sidelined along with young forward Gabriel Martinelli. Mesut Ozil, William Saliba and Sokratis are not part of Arsenal’s Europa League squad.
Arteta is very much expected to ring in the changes with some of the players that did not feature against Manchester United at the weekend set to get a run out on Thursday. There will be a change between the sticks, where summer signing Alex Runar Runarsson should replace Bernd Leno.
In front of the Icelandic international, Arsenal are likely to line up in a 3-4-3 formation, with Shkodran Mustafi and Sead Kolasinac flanking Luiz in the three-man backline. Cedric Soares and Ainsley Maitland-Niles ought to be the two wing-backs on the right and left sides, respectively.
The central midfield pair of Dani Ceballos and Granit Xhaka was left out of the starting XI at the weekend, but are in line to return against Molde, although Joe Willock, who impressed against Dundalk, is also an option that Arteta might look at.
Nicolas Pepe, who scored in the game against Dundalk, ought to get the nod on the right flank while Reiss Nelson is expected to take up the opposite wing. Eddie Nketiah will slot in as the lone striker, with both Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang dropping to the bench for the game.
Probable Lineup (3-4-3): Runarsson; Mustafi, Luiz, Kolasinac; Cedric, Ceballos, Xhaka, Maitland-Niles; Pepe, Nketiah, Nelson
Unlike Arsenal, Molde do not have to contend with many injury issues heading into the game with Kristoffer Haraldseid the only player missing for the visitors. Manager Erling Moe has used the 4-3-3 formation in each of Molde’s Europa League encounters and is likely to stick with the same in London.
Andreas Linde will be the man in goal for the visiting team and is likely to be a busy man on Thursday night. He will need all the protection he can get from the backline comprising of Henry Wingo, Martin Bjornbak, Stian Rode Gregersen and Kristoffer Haugen.
Former Manchester United academy man and current Molde captain Magnus Wolff Eikrem, who has two goals and two assists in Europe this term, will provide the forward thrust from the centre of the park for the hosts. The defensive responsibilities will fall on the shoulders of Fredrik Aursnes and Martin Ellingsen.
Eirik Hestad and Ola Brynhildsen ought to be the two wide players for Molde. They can cause some problems to the Gunners’ backline with their direct running at Shkodran Mustafi and Sead Kolasinac, who can be vulnerable at the back. Spearheading the Molde attack should be Ohi Omoijuanfo, who has scored in both the group games this term.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Linde; Wingo, Bjornbak, Gregersen, Haugen; Eikrem, Aursnes, Ellingsen; Hestad, Omoijuanfo, Brynhildsen
- This will be the first time ever that Arsenal will be facing off against Molde. The North London giants have won three of their four previous meetings against Norwegian opponents (D1).
- The Gunners’ last encounter against a Norwegian outfit came in the UEFA Champions League in December 2004, when they beat Rosenborg 5-1.
- On the other hand, this will be Molde’s first-ever meeting against an English opponent. Norwegian sides have never beaten a club from England away from home in 22 attempts till date (D2 L20).
- Since the start of the 2018/19 UEFA Europa League campaign, Arsenal skipper Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has scored 12 goals. Only Munas Dabbur (13) has bettered his tally during this period.
- Molde have won four of their last six away matches in the UEFA Europa League (D1 L1).
Player to Watch
The Ivory Coast international has had quite a few detractors since his big-money move to Arsenal last year. And while he is yet to completely justify the mammoth price tag, there have been signs of what he can do over the last month, with the winger scoring against Sheffield United in the Premier League and Dundalk in Europe, while getting an assist against Rapid Wien.
However, the lack of consistency is a problem for the 25-year-old, something that he will need to address in the coming weeks if he is to become a regular fixture in Arteta’s starting XI. And a strong performance against Molde, to build on his recent displays would be a step in the right direction for Pepe.
Arsenal 2-0 Molde
Molde come into Thursday’s clash on the back of a six-game winning run in all competitions. However, in Arsenal, they will be taking on a team that is at a much higher level than their recent opponents, and in a good moment as well, following impressive wins over Dundalk and Manchester United.
The visitors will not be there to just make up the numbers and are likely to have some moments of optimism at the Emirates. But, ultimately, the sheer quality in this Arsenal side should see them get across the line without much of a fuss. The Hard Tackle predicts a 2-0 win for Mikel Arteta & co.