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Premier League giants, Arsenal face Sporting Lisbon in Portugal on Thursday, as they fight with the Primeira Liga side to top their Europa League group.
The North Londoners already have a couple of wins under their belts, defeating FC Vorskla at the Emirates and Qarabag in Azerbaijan. Sporting have similarly dispatched with the same two sides in their opening group games. As a result, it’s only goal difference that divides them as it stands.
Domestically, Arsenal and Sporting have made relatively similar starts to the season. Unai Emery’s side are in fourth place, two points off the top of the table, whilst Jose Peseiro’s team are in fifth, four points off top spot.
Let’s have a look at which players Emery is likely to pick for the game at the Estadio Jose Alvalade.
Goalkeeper and Defence
This is likely to be the area of the pitch where Arsenal stay the most consistent. For a start, defensive players are usually better able to play multiple games in a week. More importantly, Emery has very few alternative options available right now.
Bernd Leno should continue to start in goal, as Petr Cech doesn’t appear to be quite ready to return to the action at this stage. Stephan Lichtsteiner will likely switch from left-back to right-back after Bellerin played the full 90 minutes on Monday, whilst the Swiss international only played around 60.
Emery has said that Sokratis can ‘maybe’ be fit for Thursday, which doesn’t suggest that he’ll start. It’s still possible, but it’d be safer to save the Greek international for the weekend. That means Rob Holding and Shkodran Mustafi will start, once again.
On the left, Nacho Monreal and Sead Kolasinac were both in the group for the Leicester game but came up just short. Presumably, at least one of them will recover in time for Thursday. It’s anyone’s guess which one. For now, we’ll assume Monreal, until we get any further updates from the club.
Matteo Guendouzi and Mohamed Elneny should both be in the XI, just as they were in Azerbaijan. Guendouzi’s game time in the league has been limited to bench appearances recently, whilst Elneny hasn’t played a single minute of PL football, so the Europa League remains their best source of starts.
Another player who hasn’t started as many games recently is Aaron Ramsey. With Mesut Özil seemingly taking his place in the middle, the Welshman has only made the starting XI once this month. He should get a chance on this occasion.
Özil, Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira will presumably all be rested ahead of Sunday’s trip to Crystal Palace, but you’d expect one or two of them to make the bench, at least.
Up front, Danny Welbeck should return to the team. He’s in good form, scoring three and assisting one in his four starts this season. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been limited to bench appearances recently, so he should start on the left-hand side. His form is even better than Welbeck’s right now, with four goals in his last 57 minutes of football.
On the right, Emile Smith Rowe should retain his starting spot. Alternative options for the right-hand side like Mkhitaryan, Iwobi and Özil all played on Monday, and will likely play again at the weekend. Smith Rowe gives them a chance to rest. Plus, his goal against Qarabag makes him a deserving candidate for another opportunity.
If Eddie Nketiah is going to get first-team chances at any point in the near future, it’s more likely to be next week against Blackpool than this week against Sporting Lisbon.