Arsenal are looking to maintain their hundred percent winning record in the UEFA Europa League as they lock horns with Rapid Wien on Thursday.
Mikel Arteta is currently under immense pressure following yet another disastrous to the Premier League campaign for Arsenal. The Gunners have secured only four wins in ten league matches so far, slumping to yet another defeat in their recent game against Wolves.
However, Arsenal’s Europa League performance this season has been something of a rare bright spot in an otherwise dire campaign. Arteta’s men have secured four wins in four matches, effectively sealing their place in the knockout rounds of the competition. And as they prepare to meet Rapid Wien on Thursday, they will be hoping to continue their perfect record.
The Austrian outfit put up quite a fight in the reverse fixture back in mid-October, losing 2-1. This time around, registering at least a point at Emirates this midweek could be imperative as they look to keep up with second-placed Molde, who are level on points with them heading into this matchday.
Molde do, however, face a relatively easier task against Dundalk and as Rapid Wien go up against the Norwegian giants in the final matchday, a point on Thursday could give a much-needed boost, as far as their qualification hopes are concerned.
And here, at the Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over the two sides ahead of this crucial match-up in the UEFA Europa League this midweek.
Tactics & Team News
This is pretty much a dead rubber for Arsenal, who face arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur in the highly anticipated North London derby on the weekend. So, Mikel Arteta is naturally expected to ring in the changes, providing chances to some of the lesser important names in the roster as he has done throughout his tenure so far.
Starting in goal could be new signing Runar Alex Runarsson, ahead of Bernd Leno while other direct changes might include the return of fullback duo of Cedric Soares and Ainsley Maitland-Niles, at the expense of Hector Bellerin and Kieran Tierney.
David Luiz started in the last Europa League fixture against Molde. But, the Brazilian was unfortunate enough to pick up a head injury against Wolves, so we might witness Rob Holding starting alongside Shkodran Mustafi at the heart of Arsenal’s four-man backline this midweek.
In midfield, Arsenal have confirmed Thomas Partey will remain on the sidelines for the time being. Arteta does, however, have Mohamed Elneny back in contention and we expect the Egyptian international to feature alongside Granit Xhaka in the double-pivot while Dani Ceballos is also an option.
Arteta once again deployed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as a centre-forward in the game against Wolves. So in an attempt to keep his strikers fresh, the Spaniard could deploy a 4-4-2 in order to accommodate both Eddie Nketiah and Alexandre Lacazette into the starting eleven this midweek.
Joe Willock is usually a guaranteed starter in the UEFA Europa League matches. But the return of Elneny, combined with the introduction of the 4-4-2 should the Englishman only providing an alternative to Nicolas Pepe at right-wing, while Reiss Nelson should start on the opposite flank.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Runarsson; Cedric, Holding, Mustafi, Maitland-Niles; Pepe, Elneny, Xhaka, Nelson; Lacazette, Nketiah.
Rapid Wien head coach Dietmar Kuhbauer is missing a number of players heading into this game including the suspended Tamas Szanto while the likes of Dejan Ljubicic, Dejan Petrovic, Dalibor Velimirovic and Philipp Schobesberger are all out injured.
London calling ?? Heute gehts in die britische Hauptstadt, wo wir am Donnerstag unser UEL Rückspiel gegen Arsenal FC bestreiten. Zu diesem Anlass wird der Anzug von #bugatti wieder ausgeführt. #SCR2020 #AFCSCR #UEL
? GEPA pictures pic.twitter.com/GAXIQ1LD4D
— SK Rapid (@skrapid) December 2, 2020
Kuhbauer fielded a wingback system when these two teams last met, but with Arsenal embracing a more traditional back-four in recent weeks, the visitors might also switch to a four-man backline.
Maximilian Hofmann, in particular, should play a key role in spearheading a defence that is expected to remain deep and invite pressure from the opposition. It might be an ideal tactic against a side who clearly lack creative inspiration in their team so the Austrians might succeed if they manage to keep the likes of Nketiah and Lacazette quiet this midweek.
Srdjan Grahovac and Christoph Knasmullner, who is a more-attacking midfielder, should both play a key role in the second line of press. Their primary objective should be to prevent Arsenal from dominating the proceedings in the middle of the park.
In the attacking third, meanwhile, the onus will again be on Taxiarchis Fountas to provide productivity. The Greek forward was the scorer of the only one in a 2-1 defeat in the reverse fixture and is expected to play a key role alongside Ercan Kara in the final third.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Gartler; Stojkovic, Hofmann, Barac, Ullmann; Grahovac, Knasmullner; Schick, Demir, Fountas; Kara.
- Arsenal have won both their previous home games against Austrian opponents, with their first such game since beating Austria Wien 6-1 in the 1991-92 European Cup.
- Rapid Wien have lost three of their four away games against English opponents in all competitions, though they did win their last such visit 3-2 against Aston Villa in August 2010.
- Having won all four of their group stage games to this season’s UEFA Europa League, Arsenal are looking to win each of their first five matches to a season in major European competition, for only the second time, having last done so in the 2005-06 Champions League.
- Having won both of their last two Europa League games, Rapid Wien are looking to win three in a row in the competition for the first time since November 2015.
- Joe Willock has been directly involved in five goals in his last three Europa League games for Arsenal, scoring two and assisting three.
Player to Watch
It was surprising to see Willian getting the nod ahead of Reiss Nelson in the recent game against Wolves even though the latter was coming on the back of an excellent run of form in recent weeks. But, in what is almost a customary change from Mikel Arteta, we are set to witness the Englishman start against Rapid Wien in midweek.
A former star at Hoffenheim, Nelson has impressed the onlookers in recent matches, using his pace and dynamism. He has looked lively, and his ability to take on opposing defenders brings an additional dimension to the Arsenal attack. And it is something they might desperately need when facing a side like Rapid Wien. So it might be wise to bet on Nelson as the game-changer on Thursday.
Arsenal 1-0 Rapid Wien
Rapid Wien have shown in the past that they are not a pushover in European competition, notably doing well in the reverse fixture. So this might turn out to be a closer contest than what the papers suggest, and a narrow 1-0 victory for the Gunners shouldn’t be labelled as a surprise at all.