Arsenal will head into their first Europa League knockout stage game against Östersunds with an extensive number of players missing according to arsenal.com.
The Gunners will be without Aaron Ramsey and Alexandre Lacazette through injury, Jack Wilshere is still recovering from sickness he was afflicted with during Saturday’s loss to Spurs, (actual illness, not just sick about the result) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is cup tied while Petr Cech and Laurent Koscielny will also not travel as a precaution, with Koscielny still nursing an Achilles problem. The list of absentees is so large that it wouldn’t be a surprise if Arsene Wenger was ruled out at this point, which I’m sure a section of Arsenal fans wouldn’t be against.
The laundry list of players not involved has opened the door for some of Arsenal’s young guns, with Matt Macey, Rob Holding, Reiss Nelson, Eddie Nketiah and Joe Willock all expected to make the trip to Sweden. Danny Welbeck is likely to lead the line for Arsenal with Lacazette and Aubameyang both out.
Arsene Wenger would expect his side to have enough to get past Östersunds over two legs even without their missing starters, but nothing can be taken for granted in football and Arsenal fans will be nervous about a potential banana skin, especially with a makeshift line-up. It’s a great story for the Swedish minnows, who have existed for less time than Wenger has been in charge at Arsenal, The Gunners will not want to play a supporting role in Östersunds’ fairytale story continuing. The magnitude of the game will be even greater for the manager of Östersunds, Englishman Graham Potter. Coming up against a Premier League juggernaut like Arsenal in a major European competition must be a dream come true for Potter and his contingent of English players within the Swedish club.
It will be a good opportunity to see some of Arsenal’s young prospects in Sweden on Thursday night, particularly the likes of Nketiah and Nelson, who have impressed in their limited action with the first team so far. On the other hand, Arsenal cannot afford to take these two games lightly. The Europa League looks increasingly like The Gunners’ only chance to qualify for next season’s Champions League and they’ve been handed a golden opportunity to make it to the last 16, if they play to their potential.
Hopefully Arsenal will return from Sweden with a convincing lead to bring back to The Emirates for the second leg, having given first team regular’s valuable time to rest and recover and some of their young talents an opportunity to showcase their skills. If Wenger’s side take the games seriously, don’t underestimate their opponents and match Östersunds effort, there’s no reason why that shouldn’t be the case, even without many of their star names.