Europa League: Ostersunds FK vs Arsenal – Lineups, Preview and Prediction
Arsene Wenger and his team head to Sweden for Thursday’s visit to Ostersund to face Graham Potter’s surprising outfit Ostersunds FK.
18:00 GMT, Thursday 15th February, Jämtkraft Arena (Ostersund, Sweden), BT Sport
Arsenal find themselves making the trip into the Arctic Circle this week as they travel to Sweden to face Graham Potter’s Europa League debutants Ostersunds FK.
The very fact that the Swedish side found their way into the Europa League was nothing short of impressive. Beating Galatasaray, CS Fola Esch and PAOK in qualifying, they ended up finishing second place in a group that included Athletic Bilbao, Zorya Luhansk and Hertha Berlin.
The Swedish league, the Allsvenskan, is currently in its off-season, breaking over the winter months rather than the summer month as is the convention in most other European leagues. Last season, Ostersunds FK finished fifth but managed to qualify for the Europa League by dint of their triumph in the Svenska Cupen.
Having only arrived in the first division of Swedish football in 2016, Graham Potter’s successes at the club are amongst the most impressive of any of the clubs in Europe at the moment.
From a club on the up to a club on the down, Arsenal have had a disappointing season so far. Despite a promising transfer window in January, results on the field have hardly been positive up until then
Sitting firmly in fifth, Arsene Wenger’s side saw themselves resigned to what may well be another year in which the St Totteringham’s Day celebrations go ahead as they lost last weekend to Spurs.
As such, the Europa League is looking likely to be the only real chance that the North London club have to make it into the Champions League next season. But with tricky away fixtures like Thursdays to negotiate first, this task is likely to be easier said than done.
Last Time Out
Hertha Berlin 1-1 Ostersunds FK (Europa League)
Ostersund’s last competitive game came in the last calendar year in the Europa League group stages, when Graham Potter’s outfit came up against Hertha Berlin in the Olympiastadion in the German capital.
With the Swedish club already qualified, a win could have carried them to the top of the group. When Sotiris Papagiannopoulos scored just after the halftime interval, it looked as though the unlikely could happen.
However, it wasn’t to be. Three minutes later, Peter Pekarík scored for the hosts and so the scores stayed until the final whistle went.
Tottenham 1-0 Arsenal (Premier League)
In a game that would seal Arsenal’s fate as the worst of the top six, a Harry Kane goal saw off Arsene Wenger’s side in what was an edgy affair in the end.
Despite ceding early chances, Spurs dropped a little deeper and soon looked to catch their rivals on the break. This they did on a number of occasions and, in the end, Kane will have been disappointed not to have scored more.
Still, Arsenal could have drawn: Alexandre Lacazette missing two chances as the game ticked over into injury time.
Ostersunds FK Lineup
Graham Potter will be without Johan Bertilsson and Smajl Suljevic, who are all injured. Beyond this, his squad have a clean bill of health going into the fixture.
Arsene Wenger has said he will play a full-strength side on Thursday given the fact that his team are already out of the FA Cup, which resumes this weekend.
He will, of course, be missing Santi Cazorla to long-term injury and Alexandre Lacazette, who had an operation on his ankle this week which puts him out of action for the next six weeks at least.
Key Battles: Saman Ghoddos (Ostersunds FK) vs Jack Wilshere (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.
For Arsenal, Jack Wilshere needs to impress on the European stage if he is going to cement his place in the England side going into the World Cup.
Having played in all six of Arsenal’s Europa League fixtures so far, the England international should look to show that he can perform in tournament play in a competition that requires a level of flexibility and an ability to deal rapidly with changeable conditions.
Making the most of conditions
Graham Potter will know that the conditions in Sweden stand largely in his side’s favour.
As the press photos from Sweden roll in, showing the airport at Ostersunds swathed in deep drifts of snow and with plummeting temperatures, the hosts should take comfort from the the fact that they have the upper hand here.
However, with this being their first competitive game of the new year, Potter will hope that his side can hit the ground running.
Europa League or nothing
Last season saw Jose Mourinho throwing all of Manchester United’s not inconsiderable resources into the Europa League as his side’s chances of making the Champions League slowly drifted away in the Premier League.
Arsene Wenger is faced with the same conundrum. However, he is not a recently-arrived manager with the fan base generally onside. If Arsenal start to drop games in the Premier League, the familiar calls for Wenger Out might distract his team from the matter at hand.
The question is: can Wenger hold his nerve and make the Europa League his priority?
Prediction: Ostersunds 1-1 Arsenal
This could be the hardest match that Arsenal have to face in the tournament, at least as far as conditions are concerned.
Don’t be surprised if Graham Potter can pull off an upset from within the Arctic Circle.