Arsenal’s Europa League journey continues tomorrow night as they play host to Czech side Slavia Prague in the quarter-final first leg.
Mikel Arteta’s side come off the back of a footballing lesson handed to them by Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool team; they will surely be looking to improve upon Sunday’s performance should they have semi-final aspirations.
Adjusting to Injuries
Having fallen ill prior to the Liverpool game, Granit Xhaka returned to training for the Europa League preparations this week.
The Swiss international’s absence was felt enormously when facing Liverpool, with the Gunners lacking any real midfield cohesion, that Xhaka has become synonymous for in recent months.
Xhaka provides a defensive solidity that most others in the squad wouldn’t be able to sustain, with the added bonus of him being a left footed player, he often slips into the last line of the defence to build attacks from the back, allowing the left-back to push even further forward.
Should Xhaka miss out again, it is likely that Mohammed Elneny would be chosen to partner Thomas Partey in the centre of the park, with Dani Ceballos failing to impress in his most recent European performances.
A major loss for Mikel Arteta is that of Kieran Tierney, who suffered ligament damage in his knee in the first half of the Liverpool fixture, forcing him to spend the next 4-6 weeks on the sidelines – a huge blow for the Gunners squad.
Despite being a left-back, Tierney has been one of Arsenal’s most creative players this season, most notably in the Europa League round of 32, where he inspired his teammates to a 3-2 win over Benfica with a goal.
Slavia's high press
Arsenal fans will be hoping both Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith-Rowe will be available for selection again, having both picked up knocks in recent weeks.
The two youngsters have been instrumental to the Gunners attack since the turn of the year, with their absence glaringly obvious in Sunday’s loss, where Arteta’s side failed to create any obvious goalscoring opportunities.
The energy that the two young stars bring to the side is something that the Gunners have been missing for a while now – their ability to break down defences that choose to sit deep and counter-attack is virtually unrivalled in the squad, with 24 goal contributions between them in all competitions this season.
However against Slavia, the challenge will be different. The Czech league leaders have adopted a much more aggressive approach to defending, as they displayed in their beating of both Leicester and Rangers in previous rounds.
Pressing high up the field out of possession, Slavia have found themselves unbeaten since the turn of the year, while remaining unmatched in 25 league games this term.
They also opt to use a tight man-to-man marking system in the centre of midfield, which Arteta will be wary of, but also looking to exploit as they leave space in behind as they press high.
Arsenal have found success playing against teams who press high since Arteta took over, with wins against Leicester, Manchester United and Tottenham in recent times.
The squad, led by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will be hoping to reproduce this kind of performance should they wish to progress into the semifinals.
Taking their chances
The last time these two sides faced each-other was in the Champions League in the 2007/8, where the Gunners left as 7-0 winners, with goals from Cesc Fabregas and Alexandr Hleb among others.
With a catalogue of changes since their last meeting, Arteta will be looking to his senior players to start producing in the final third of the pitch as the season comes to a close.
Despite some strong performances throughout the season, captain Aubameyang will once again be in the spotlight as his teammates will look to him in the big moments.
The striker has failed to hit the heights of his previous two seasons with the north London side, but the world-class quality still remains, it seems to just be a case of low confidence and a lack of clear opportunities holding him back.
Arsenal will be hoping that Slavia’s high-pressing style will allow for space for chances to be created in behind the defenders, where the Gunners can utilise the pace of their attacking line.
Arsenal fans will see this tie as a must win, with the Europa League being the clearest path to Champions League football next season.
Arteta has consistently expressed his desire to be back among the biggest names in European football – a win tomorrow night will be another step in the right direction for the north London side.