Arsenal face Stade Rennais FC on Thursday in the second leg of their Europa League last-16 tie, with a two-goal deficit to overturn if they want to progress.
Arsenal started the knockout tie strongly with an early goal and a number of first-half chances in France, but a red card for Sokratis Papastathopoulos turned the whole thing on its head. Rennes equalised a couple of touches later, then scored twice in the second half to put the Gunners in an extremely precarious position.
The one thing Unai Emery’s side has going for it is the away goal. A 2-0 victory on Thursday would be enough to send them through to the quarter-final. However, conceding one would leave Arsenal needing to score three and then add another in extra time, and letting two in would mean having to score five just to avoid defeat.
As a result, the team needs to be strong at both ends, and with no Premier League match at the weekend Emery has no excuse not to play his best players. Let’s have a look at our predicted lineup for the clash.
Goalkeeper and Centre-Backs
Having said that Emery would pick his best available players, there’s probably going to be one exception to that. Bernd Leno is in fantastic form at the moment, and he just helped Arsenal to two big results against Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United. Nonetheless, Petr Cech is still likely to start against his old club.
Emery will probably go with the same formation that worked against Manchester United at the weekend, particularly as Stephan Lichtsteiner continues to be mysteriously absent and Henrikh Mkhitaryan is an injury doubt. That means three at the back, and there really aren’t many options for that formation.
With Sokratis suspended, Shkodran Mustafi will come in. Konstantinos Mavropanos isn’t in Arsenal’s Europa League squad, Rob Holding is still injured, so Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal will take the other two spots.
Midfield and Wing-Backs
The wing-back positions should be fairly straightforward for Emery, with Sead Kolasinac the only option on the left and Ainsley Maitland-Niles the only likely option on the right. Carl Jenkinson could play on the right, as could Lichtsteiner if he’s actually fit, but neither are likely to do so.
In midfield, Emery has a bit of a choice to make. Lucas Torreira is suspended in the Premier League, but he’s available in Europe. Matteo Guendouzi is an option too. Meanwhile, Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey performed well as a pair at the weekend.
Our prediction is that Emery will opt for Torreira to replace Ramsey though. The Uruguayan will provide a little more defensive stability, which Arsenal will need to avoid conceding that away goal. Plus, it will keep Ramsey available as a game-changing option from the bench.
The big news this week is that Alexandre Lacazette’s suspension has been reduced, meaning he’s available for this match. He should start alongside Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, as Arsenal will need all their firepower to get a result on the night.
If Emery opts to play a 3-4-3, he could put Aubameyang out wide on the right with Alex Iwobi on the left, or even Denis Suarez. However, we predict he’ll stick with the 3-4-1-2 and play Mesut Özil in behind his two strikers. There’s always the potential to change the formation with Iwobi, Ramsey and Suarez coming off the bench.
Eddie Nketiah got some minutes at the weekend, and he’ll presumably be available as a substitute as well.