Arsenal are looking to seal qualification for the Europa League knockout stages on Thursday night.
The novel and wacky competition that’s been regarded as a nuisance returns on Thursday evening as Red Star Belgrade visit the Emirates Stadium.
Arsenal go into the game knowing that a win will put them through to the round of the 32 and leave them in a very strong position to win the group outright. In fact, should Cologne defeat BATE Borisov, Arsenal could win the group simply by beating by Red Star.
The permutations are a lot less exciting when Arsenal’s qualification is inevitable.
Red Star proved to be resolute opponents in Serbia but lacked the quality to hurt a very make-shift Arsenal defence that had no less than four players out of position. That we’ve managed to get through each game so far without having to worry too much and the defence doesn’t reflect well on the rest of our group.
It’s strange to say, but the trio of Rob Holding, Mohamed Elneny and Mathieu Debuchy should be fine. It’s up front where Arsenal may have a little difficulty. Giroud may have nominated himself for another Puskas award with his overhead kick in Serbia, but his performances have been far from lively. Theo Walcott has struggled to make an impression as well, and has become more intimate with Europe’s various linesman than he has the back of the net. Their performances in the Carabao Cup against Norwich were far from encouraging.
Still, Arsenal should have enough to get the three points. The “B” team has been barely functional this season but has just enough quality to see off sub-par opposition.
David Ospina was due to start in the goal but he remains injured, so there could be another start for Matt Macey. In defence, Debuchy, Elneny and Holding are expected to line-up together, with Reiss Nelson and Ainsley Maitland-Niles either side. Jack Wilshere will likely partner Francis Coquelin in midfield, with Alex Iwobi, Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud forming the front-line.
Eddie Nketiah, meanwhile, will likely be on the bench. The Emirates crowd will be itching to see him after his brace against Norwich, but Arsene Wenger will go for seniority with Giroud over youthful exuberance.
The task is straightforward for the Gunners: win, qualify, and look ahead to the Manchester City game with no new injuries to worry about.