Can the Gunners push past the Czech champions as they look to salvage this season?
The Premier League was probably gone for Arsenal several months ago, but anything seemed possible if they could turn their form around.
However, the 3-0 defeat to Liverpool ended any hopes that may have remained. The loss leaves the Gunners 10 points out of fourth place with just eight league matches to go, extremely unlikely. Which clarifies what we all already knew — it’s all about the Europa League at this point. Arsenal’s one path left to make this season count for something and a way back into the UEFA Champions League.
Knee injuries to David Luiz and Kieran Tierney will make the march to a potential final that much more difficult. And it puts more pressure on Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe, and Granit Xhaka to not only return Thursday, but remain healthy for the rest of the season. Mikel Arteta needs his best possible XI for the Europa League from here on out, allowing squad depth to take up starting roles for Premier League matches.
Slavia Prague enter the quarterfinals having beat Rangers 3-1 in the previous round, after seeing off Leicester City in the Round of 32. They are 14 points clear at the top of the Czech First League and have suffered just one loss since the start of November (a 4-0 defeat by Bayer Leverkusen).
Slavia Prague will travel to London without Ondrej Kudela, who suddenly isn’t well enough to travel to London…, Simon Deli (injured), and Taras Kacharaba (left off the Europa League roster) leaving them with just one fit centerback. However, they have three players in double-digit goals and will be happy to sit back, frustrate Arsenal, grab an away goal and be reinforced for the home leg.
Left Out: N/A
Out: David Luiz (knee) & Kieran Tierney (knee)
- The loss of David Luiz for what could be the rest of the season limits Arsenal to three primary centerbacks (with Calum Chambers as a fourth alternative). But Saturday’s injury to Kieran Tierney is the one that could really derail Europa League hopes. If he is ruled out for a significant amount of time, Arsenal are left with two fullbacks and will have to use the catch-all Chambers at right-back or dare we say Saka at left-back again? We know they are out for Thursday, so let’s hope the rest of the injury news is positive for the Gunners.
- With this being Arsenal’s most important match of the season so far, they need their most dynamic attack. Which means the young trio of Smith Rowe, Odegaard and Saka should all be locked into whatever formation Arteta wishes to deploy Thursday. Aubameyang struggled again out on the left when paired with Lacazette up top, so it’s the captain that needs to be used from the start to help establish the tone in the first leg.
- Xhaka should be available to start the first leg after being sorely missed in the loss to Liverpool. His partnership with Partey is Arsenal’s best option, even if we haven’t been able to see the best of Partey consistently yet. If for some reason Xhaka is out once again, Elneny should be called on to help protect the backline and prevent any crucial away goals for Slavia Prague.
- After Saturday’s defensive struggles, Pablo Mari, Hector Bellerin, and Cedric are back into the starting backline for Arsenal. Once again let’s call out how important Cedric’s addition has been this season. Even if fans wanted, and expected, a more exciting defensive addition last year, Cedric has been vital in filling in at both fullback positions as well as pushing Bellerin.
- If Saka or Smith Rowe are unable to start, hopefully it’s Pepe or Willian that begin on the wing rather than moving Aubameyang to the side to make room for Lacazette.
- Lacazette would be better used as the Premier League starter from here on out and a late sub to either chase a goal or help hold up play. If both Bukayo and Emile are out Thursday, it would be nice to see Martinelli get a chance to start, but it’s likely Willian, then Pepe, then Martinelli.
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