Unai Emery has certainly fielded weakened sides in the Europa League so far this season, and with ten points from four matches, it is a policy that has worked. Usually there is a strong bench, but with qualification from the group secured, and more important fish to fry back home, the prediction is that the bench will be stuffed with youths on Thursday evening.
The trip to the stadium where the match against Vorskla will be played involves not only a long flight to Ukraine, but apparently a fairly long road journey from the airport.
So let’s imagine that Emery will field four at the back against Spurs for the sake of argument, and let’s predict that the starting eleven will be:
Bellerin – Mustafi – Holding - Kolasinac
Torreira - Xhaka
Mkhitaryan – Iwobi - Aubameyang
So if Emery decided to leave those eleven players back in England to save them the fatigue of the trip for the Europa League game, he could field the following line-up against Vorskla:
Jenkinson – Sokratis – Pleguezuelo – Maitland-Niles
Guendouzi - Elneny
Smith Rowe – Ramsey - Ozil
There would certainly be players with something to prove in that eleven, and picking up even a point would be seen as a bonus, as with a home match v Qarabag to come, Arsenal should still top the group thanks to their results against Sporting.
This assumes that Lichtsteiner is not fit to return, but should he be, there is the option of moving Maitland-Niles into midfield and leaving perhaps Ozil at home (although given what the club are paying the number 10, one suspects that he will be taken on this trip on a point of principle, unless Emery is thinking of starting him in the derby three days later).
We wouldn’t want to be mischievous, but if the club have decided that the departure of Ozil would help them financially over the next two and a half years, making him fulfil his contractual obligations might just persuade him that, for his reputation alone, he might consider taking a wage cut and accepting a move to be the main man once again elsewhere. How much use a sometimes brilliant, but inconsistent performer is to Unai Emery is one for debate.
It will be interesting to see who does board the plane tomorrow, but there seems a very good chance that this will be the Gunners’ weakest Europa League line-up so far this season.
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