Arsenal face Chelsea in the Europa League final on Wednesday, with qualification for the Champions League on the line for the Gunners.
After a mixed campaign for Unai Emery’s side domestically, they have a chance to redeem themselves by lifting a European trophy at the end of it. It’s just the second time Arsenal have made it to the final of the UEFA Cup/Europa League, and they’ve never managed to win the competition before.
Finishing fifth in the Premier League, this is also now the only way to ensure Champions League qualification for next season. Let’s have a look at the team news and predicted lineup for the match.
Despite fan protestations, Petr Cech appears extremely likely to start this match. Unai Emery had the chance to drop the goalkeeper against Rennes, Napoli or Valencia, but he consistently stuck with the 37-year-old, regardless of the occasion. Now he has the chance to play a fairytale final against his old club, that’s unlikely to change.
Bernd Leno will be on the bench, whilst Deyan Iliev travelled to Baku, but he’s unlikely to make the final 23-man squad on the day, as somebody has to drop out.
In total, Unai Emery has brought eight defenders with him to Baku: Nacho Monreal, Laurent Koscielny, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Shkodran Mustafi, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Sead Kolasinac, Carl Jenkinson and Stephan Lichtsteiner.
Though there are a number of different formations Emery could employ, we expect him to go with the three at the back that’s worked well for the team in the competition. Monreal, Koscielny and Sokratis are his strongest centre-back trio, whilst Kolasinac and Maitland-Niles will take up the wing-back roles on either side.
There are six options available for the three midfield spots in our predicted formation: Granit Xhaka, Lucas Torreira, Matteo Guendouzi, Joe Willock, Mohamed Elneny and Mesut Özil. It’s hard to look past Torreira, Xhaka and Özil though, as it would be a gamble to start youngsters Guendouzi or Willock, and Elneny simply hasn’t played enough.
It’s a shame that Aaron Ramsey isn’t going to make a surprise return to the side, but that’s completely off the table now.
There’s a small possibility Emery might opt for Guendouzi and Xhaka at the base of midfield with Torreira ahead of them so the Uruguayan can man-mark Jorginho. It’s not something the Spanish head coach has particularly hinted at with his previous team selections though.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan won’t join the squad for this one, but Emery isn’t going to lack firepower on the 29th. The return of Danny Welbeck means the head coach now has four strikers to choose from, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah the other alternatives.
Additionally, Emery has called up star academy wingers Bukayo Saka and Xavier Amaechi, as well as first-team regular Alex Iwobi. You wouldn’t imagine he’d be willing to start Amaechi or Saka though, which means playing with two strikers is the only realistic option.
Given Welbeck has only just returned to full match fitness and Nketiah only scored his first Premier League goal in Arsenal’s last game, Aubameyang and Lacazette are the only real options to start this one. The other two will be hopeful of making an impact from the bench.
Predicted Starting Lineup
Leno, Mustafi, Jenkinson, Lichtsteiner, Elneny, Guendouzi, Willock, Saka, Amaechi, Iwobi, Nketiah, Welbeck