Jul 28, 2021

PREVIEW: Arsenal’s Top Four Hopes Continues To As They Host Slava Prague

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Tierney is reportedly facing several weeks on the sidelines with the injury he sustained against Liverpool in the same area.

FILE PHOTO: Arsenal’s 3-0 defeat to Liverpool at the weekend was more than just yet another aberration for the club in the Premier League. PICTURE: SportRush

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LONDON: The Gunners scraped a 3-2 aggregate victory over Olympiacos to book their spot in the last eight.

Arsenal will endeavour to get back on track in the Europa League when they welcome Slavia Prague to the Emirates Stadium for the first leg of their quarter-final clash on Thursday evening.

The Gunners scraped a 3-2 aggregate victory over Olympiacos to book their spot in the last eight, whereas Slavia Prague dumped Rangers out of the tournament, but that tie was overshadowed by controversy.

If suffering a 1-0 home defeat to Olympiacos was not humiliating enough for Mikel Arteta, the manner of their 3-0 loss to Liverpool at the weekend highlighted the many problems that the Spaniard continues to face in the Emirates dugout after nearly a year and a half in the job.

Arsenal held their own in the first half against the champions, but an inspired change from Jurgen Klopp saw substitute Diogo Jota strike twice either side of a Mohamed Salah finish, as the Gunners stretched their winless run to three matches across all competitions with a truly miserable display on home soil.

Arteta also witnessed his side come up short in the second leg against Olympiacos in the last-16 stage, but that triumphant night in Athens proved to be the difference as Arsenal kept their season alive, and the Europa League is certainly now the Gunners’ best bet for another season on the continental stage given their woeful Premier League fortunes.

While Arsenal managed to avoid some of the remaining big boys in the quarter-final draw, they cannot expect to enjoy a quiet evening against the Czech giants, especially now that they have gone 13 games without a clean sheet in all competitions since drawing 0-0 with Manchester United on January 30.

However, their 1-0 loss to Olympiacos last time out represented the first time in 26 Europa League matches that they had failed to find the back of the net – a run stretching all the way back to February 2019, when they lost by the same scoreline to BATE Borisov – but a spot in the semi-finals is hardly guaranteed against an in-form Slavia outfit.

A racism row between Glen Kamara and Ondrej Kudela overshadowed the Czech side’s triumph in the last 16, as the Rangers man was consoled by manager Steven Gerrard after accusing the Slavia Prague defender – who alleged that he was attacked in the tunnel – of using a racial slur when he was pictured whispering something into his ear.

It was an undesirable end to an otherwise successful night for the Czech outfit, who struck through Peter Olayinka and Nicolae Stanciu to progress after a 1-1 draw in the first leg, and Slavia Prague’s form heading into the first leg is nothing short of astonishing.

Indeed, Jindrich Trpisovsky’s side have strung together a 21-game unbeaten run across all competitions and are yet to taste defeat since the turn of the year, although they dropped two points in the league at the weekend as Zbrojovka Brno held them to a 0-0 draw, despite having an extra man for the majority of the game.

Nevertheless, that drab stalemate represented Slavia Prague’s fourth clean sheet on the bounce, and they have already come up trumps on Leicester City’s turf in the Europa League this term, so the Czech powerhouses have earned their right to be in the quarter-finals and can be forgiven for dreaming big.

However, their only previous trip to the Emirates Stadium saw them suffer a 7-0 defeat in the 2007-08 Champions League group stage, during which Cesc Fabregas and Theo Walcott scored braces and Nicklas Bendtner also got in on the act.

Arsenal’s injury list is piling up again at the worst time for Arteta, who has already seen David Luiz undergo surgery on a knee problem, while Kieran Tierney is reportedly facing several weeks on the sidelines with the injury he sustained against Liverpool in the same area.

Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe failed late fitness tests before the visit of Liverpool but will hope to return here, and Granit Xhaka should be fine after missing out at the weekend through illness, but Mohamed Elneny will hope to replace Dani Ceballos in the engine room if Xhaka is not ready to start.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang produced another unfruitful performance at the weekend, and if one or both of Saka and Smith Rowe return to the fold this week, it would not be a surprise to see the captain dropped.

Martin Odegaard has also been experiencing some discomfort in his ankle, and he will need to pass a late fitness test in order to line up here.

Kudela has continued to represent Slavia Prague amid allegations of racism, but the 34-year-old has come down with a bout of illness and will not play this week, although a provisional one-match ban handed to him by UEFA would have ruled him out anyway.

Slavia are short of centre-back options with Simon Deli and David Hovorka also unavailable, but highly-rated winger Abdallah Sima, who has scored four goals in this season’s tournament, is available despite a domestic suspension.

Eighteen-year-old goalkeeper Matyas Vagner was given his marching orders after just 18 minutes at the weekend, but the teenager should start in goal again here as first-choice Ondrej Kolar remains doubtful with a sinus fracture.

Arsenal possible starting lineup:
Leno; Bellerin, Holding, Gabriel, Cedric; Partey, Elneny; Saka, Odegaard, Pepe; Lacazette

Slavia Prague possible starting lineup:
Vagner; Bah, Zima, Hromada, Boril; Holes, Sevcik; Sima, Stanciu, Olayinka; Kuchta

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