Arsenal travel to Belarus to face BATE Borisov on Thursday, in the first leg of their Europa League round-of-32 tie.
Thanks to their early exit from the FA Cup, Arsenal now play the two legs of the Europa League clash consecutively, with a week-long break in between.
First, it’s a chilly trip to Borisov, with snowy conditions expected on Thursday. Despite the weather, you shouldn’t expect Unai Emery to leave any key players behind for their protection. He’s said from the start that he’s taking the Europa League seriously, and so he should, considering a top-four spot in the Premier League is far from a certainty.
As a result of the fixture list and the growing importance of the Europa League, we expect Emery to pick a very strong side in midweek. Get the job done in the first leg and he can ease off in the second and rest players for a weekend trip to Southampton.
Let’s have a look at our predicted lineup for the fixture.
1Goalkeeper and Defence
Even though we expect Unai Emery to go with his strongest team in general, the one exception is likely to be in the goalkeeping position. Bernd Leno hasn’t played in the Europa League since October, and this is probably Petr Cech’s best chance to get a game between now and his summer retirement.
Leno will likely return to the team in the later rounds, assuming Arsenal progress and the German is still in favour with Emery. For this one, though, we’re going to predict Cech taking his place.
In front of the goalkeeper, Arsenal should have a few players returning. The likes of Granit Xhaka, Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Özil and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang all missed out on the trip to Huddersfield, but could all be back in time for BATE Borisov. As a result, there’s less need to play three at the back, particularly with so few backup centre-backs.
Assuming Emery switches to a back four, Sead Kolasinac and Ainsley Maitland-Niles should retain their places as full-backs. Stephan Lichtsteiner has been underperforming, and Kolasinac’s form has been very good if you ignore his weekend own goal.
With Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Rob Holding still out, and Konstantinos Mavropanos ineligible for selection, Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi are the clear choices in defence. Nacho Monreal will be available on the bench to cover centre-back and left-back.
Click ‘Next’ for Midfield, Forwards and the full Predicted Starting XI