Arsenal’s final game of this season’s Europa League group stage takes them to Dublin as they face Dundalk on Thursday.
Arsenal fans are hoping for a rare sight of victory for their team this midweek as they travel to the Aviva Stadium to face Dundalk on Thursday. In a season layered with mediocrity, inconsistency and a lack of productivity, these midweek Europa League fixtures have offered occasional moments of enjoyment for the Gunners.
It has been reflected in the results too, as Arsenal have indeed secured five wins in five matches in Group B – becoming the only side to maintain a hundred per cent winning record in the Europa League group stage so far.
However, this fixture against Dundalk could be particularly important for an Arsenal side, who clearly have something to prove following a disastrous defeat to Tottenham Hotspur, in the north London derby this past weekend. It has put Mikel Arteta’s job under the microscope, with the Spaniard now desperate to get back to winning ways.
Dundalk, meanwhile, have nothing to play for except for the pride, having lost all of their five matches in the competition so far. They were notably beaten 3-0 in the reverse fixture, but with the home advantage, Filippo Giovagnoli’s men will be hoping for a better result this week and perhaps even salvage a point at the Aviva Stadium.
Here, at The Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over the two sides ahead of this interesting contest as the Europa League group stage campaign comes to its conclusion.
Team News & Tactics
Dundalk have recently appointed Giovagnoli in a full-time managerial role and this will be his first game as the permanent head coach of the Irish club. So naturally, he will be looking to kickstart things on a positive note, however difficult things might get against an Arsenal side who have dominated the Europa League so far.
During his time as an interim manager, Giovagnoli has primarily preferred a 4-2-3-1 formation, but the 50-year-old used a 3-4-1-2 in the reverse fixture. It could also be perceived as a 3-5-2 and there’s very little reason as to why the Dundalk manager shouldn’t opt a similar setup this time around.
Knowing Arsenal have failed to create goalscoring chances this season, the Irish outfit are likely to adopt a narrow, compact shape with a deep defensive line involving Dan Clearly, Andy Boyle and Brian Gartland. They will look to provide cover for goalkeeper Gary Rogers while the two wing-backs in Sean Gannon and Cameron Dummigan could come into contention as well.
However, it will be the midfielders in the likes of Gregory Sloggett, Chris Shields and Sean Murray who could play a key role in the second line of press, although the latter is expected to operate in a more advanced role.
The 27-year-old could, in fact, provide the creative support to the two central strikers in Patrick Hoban and Micheal Duffy, who is a self-confessed Arsenal fan.
Probable Lineup (3-4-1-2): Rogers; Cleary, Boyle, Gartland; Gannon, Shields, Sloggett, Dummigan; Murray; Hoban, Duffy
With a place in the knockout round already in the bag, this dead rubber against Dundalk will serve as the perfect opportunity for Mikel Arteta to provide first-team opportunities to the youth players.
Last week, we witnessed both Folarin Balogun and Emile Smith Rowe make substitute appearances, and it won’t be surprising to see both of them earning a place in the starting eleven this midweek.
💭 Thinking about last Thursday…
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) December 2, 2020
Other young players who are in contention to feature against Dundalk are Miguel Azeez and Ben Cottrell. And with Arteta having the privilege of using five substitutes, both of them could make substitute appearances in the second half.
As far as the starting eleven is concerned, we are expecting a 4-3-3 with Mohamed Elneny and Joe Willock operating in a situation double-pivot and Smith Rowe, who scored against Rapid Wien last week, acting as the involuntary number ten.
In the attack, Nicolas Pepe remains a surefire starter due to his suspension in the Premier League while Reiss Nelson should also make his way back into the first-team. Eddie Nketiah and Alexandre Lacazette, however, could both settle for a place on the bench with Balogun likely to be deployed as the number nine.
And finally, in defence, Pablo Mari and Shkodran Mustafi should return to the side once again, at the expense of Rob Holding and Gabriel Magalhaes. There will be routine changes elsewhere too, with Runar Alex Runarsson, Cedric Soares and Ainsley Maitland-Niles all coming back into the side.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Runarsson; Cedric, Mustafi, Mari, Maitland-Niles; Elneny, Willock, Smith Rowe; Pepe, Balogun, Nelson
- This will just be the second European encounter between Dundalk and Arsenal, with the Gunners winning 3-0 on MD2 of this season’s UEFA Europa League.
- In all European competition, Dundalk are winless in seven matches against English teams, scoring two goals while shipping 24.
- Arsenal are unbeaten in eight away major European games, their longest run since March 1995. The Gunners have never gone nine without a defeat on the road.
- Dundalk have lost nine of their last 10 major European matches, losing four in a row in Europa League since winning 1-0 against Maccabi Tel Aviv in September 2016.
- Arsenal are looking to win six consecutive major European matches for the first time since November 2005.
Player to Watch
Emile Smith Rowe
— Arsenal Presser (@ArsenalPresser) December 3, 2020
Despite the lack of significance of this particular fixture, there appears to be a lot of hype regarding Smith Rowe among Arsenal fans, heading into this game.
The youngster has made quite an impression upon his return from injury, notably scoring in the 4-1 win over Rapid Wien. He looked lively and played some neat touches in the final third and with the Englishman likely to get the nod on Thursday, it will be interesting to see whether or not he will be able to make an impact.
From a stylistic perspective, Smith Rowe is the closest Arsenal have in terms of a replacement for Mesut Ozil. And given the Gunners’ dire need of a playmaker right now, a strong showing against Dundalk this midweek could go a long way in boosting the 20-year-old’s status in the side as we head towards the midway point of the campaign.
Dundalk 0-2 Arsenal
This should be another walk in the park of Arsenal despite the large contingent of youth players who are expected to feature against Dundalk. The Gunners have performed well in the competition, and players like Pepe, Willock and Nelson could once again cause problems for the Irish defence.