Europa League: Arsenal vs Ostersunds FK – Lineup, Preview and Prediction
On Thursday, Arsenal look forward to hosting Swedish Cup winner’s Ostersunds FK in their Round of 32 fixture in the Europa League.
20:05 GMT, Thursday 22nd February, Emirates Stadium (London, England), BT Sport
With the Europa League going from group stages to a Round of 32 – one more round than its more prestigious big brother the Champions League – the fixtures are coming thick and fast for the remaining contestants.
On Thursday, Arsenal welcome Ostersunds FK to the Emirates to cement what is almost certain to be their progression through to the next stage of the competition.
Having won the first leg relatively comfortably in the Jamtkraft Arena, Arsene Wenger will be focussed on squad management going into Thursday’s game in a bid to rest his players up for the Carabao Cup final clash against Manchester City this weekend.
Given the calendar year arrangement of the Allsvenskan, Ostersunds have only played in cup competitions so far in 2018, having eased past Trelleborg in the Svenska Cupen in the days just prior to the visit of Arsenal.
Three away goals in debt, Graham Potter will treat this match as an exercise in his side giving a good account of themselves. With the Allsvenskan not resuming until the first of April, this is also a good chance to pick up competitive minutes.
However, given the fact that Arsenal are likely to field as weak a side as they can dare, Potter will still have thoughts of an upset on his mind.
Last Time Out
Ostersunds FK 0-3 Arsenal (Europa League)
With Ostersund out of season and Arsenal out of the FA Cup, both teams have had no fixtures since they met last week in Sweden.
The game began with Arsenal coming out of the blocks much quicker than their hosts. When Alex Iwobi’s shot was spilled by Aly Keita in the Ostersund goal, Nacho Monreal was on hand to slot the ball home and send the home reeling.
Ten minutes later, the Ostersund misery continued: being a little too cute in defence, the Swedish Cup winners gave the ball to Henrikh Mkhitaryan whose flashed shot rebounded in off Sotiris Papagiannopoulos, putting the game beyond the reach of Graham Potter’s team.
While Ostersund did rally, Saman Ghoddos going close on a number of occasions, Mesut Ozil’s 58th-minute finish after a neat interplay with Mkhitaryan sealed the match for Arsenal.
With Santi Cazorla remaining sidelined following his ongoing Achilles problems, he is joined in the treatment room by Alexandre Lacazette who went through ankle surgery recently and Aaron Ramsey who was also ruled out this week.
Given Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is cup-tied for this, Danny Welbeck should spearhead the Arsenal attack and will relish much-needed minutes on the field.
Elsewhere, Wenger is likely to field a number of fringe players so Calum Chambers, Rob Holding, Sead Kolasinac and Reiss Nelson could all feature.
Ostersunds FK Lineup
Graham Potter is expected to retain the same lineup he implemented last week against Arsenal.
Key Battles: Saman Ghoddos (Ostersunds FK) vs Granit Xhaka (Arsenal)
Saman Ghoddos is Swedish-born Iranian footballer who has played at Ostersund since 2016. A prolific goalscorer, he found the net 20 times last season in 40 appearances in all competitions.
In the course of the Europa League this season, Ghoddos has scored four in 11, making him the biggest threat to the Arsenal attack over the two legs.
Last week in Sweden, Ghoddos came closest to scoring for the Allsvenskan club and so, if they do manage to score on Thursday, expect to see his name cropping up on the scoresheet.
For Arsenal, Granit Xhaka needs to take this chance to impress.
Throughout his tenure at the club, Xhaka’s usefulness has been questioned with a worrying regularity. Of course, much of this may have more to do with the fact that the former Borussia Monchengladbach man has been misunderstood as a player by the fan base at the Emirates and has, by and large, been played in a position which doesn’t augment his best assets.
However, with a three goal cushion to play with here, the Swiss international should approach this match with a degree of confidence that he can finally show why he was so well-regarded during his time in the Bundesliga.
Arsenal’s fixture pile-up
Every cloud has a silver lining. For Arsenal, the cloud of an early FA Cup exit came with the silver lining that the North London club would have a weekend off between their Europa League Round of 32 fixtures against Ostersunds.
From this point onwards, though, the fixtures come thick and fast. With the Carabao Cup final rapidly approaching, Arsenal have the prospect of a double header against league leaders Manchester City who they will face in the Premier League the Thursday after the final.
With the Europa League Round of 16 set to be played on the 8th and 15th of March, the fixtures are starting to pile up for Arsene Wenger. However, given that a top-four finish is now looking out of the question, perhaps he should focus on the Europa League as his best chance of Champions League qualification?
Prediction: Arsenal 2-1 Ostersunds FK
With the pressure largely off, expect Arsenal to make heavy going of this one. If Ostersund can pick up an early goal, then Arsenal fans might start to feel a little nervous but, with a strong bench, there seems no real chance of an upset at the Emirates on Thursday.