Our Europa League adventure kicks off once again, with the first leg of our Quarter-Final against Napoli.
This tie doesn’t also mark the return of European competition since the last round, but it is also the beginning of some serious fixture congestion for the Gunners.
Arsenal face six games in eighteen days – one every three days – and it will see our squad fully utilised as we aim to avoid fatigue as the business end of the season marches on.
Our last game, a disappointing loss against Everton, highlighted once again our weakness away from home, so this home tie must be won, and convincingly, if we are to go to Naples in the second leg with any confidence of progression.
The partisan atmosphere that will greet us next week, coupled with our placid, lackadaisical football away from The Emirates, places much more emphasis on this home leg, and Unai Emery needs to go all out for a big win and put the tie out of sight.
That could see the return of our striking duo to the eleven, rather than a single striker system. Emery will also have to keep in mind our precarious Premier League position, and our next fixture – a tough away trip to Watford.
Lacazette and Aubameyang simply must play if we are to get the goals that fire us to the semi-finals. Mesut Ozil has started the majority of games recently and could well play this game too, such is the importance.
That could mean that Henrikh Mkhitaryan takes the playmaking mantle versus Watford in our next game, with Ozil rested. Aaron Ramsey is fit and raring to go too, and could make up a very attacking side for this game, and Granit Xhaka took part in full training and could play, although it is more likely he will make his return against the Hornets.
Laurent Koscielny is another who has returned to contention after a brief injury, but he could be left out after Sokratis picked up a two game suspension after a yellow in the loss against Everton, making it ten bookings this season.
Rotation could see some surprise choices in the side too, and we could be left with a shuffled pack as both competitions crank the pressure up a notch.
Player to Watch
Napoli have some real quality in their side, and with Arkadiusz Milik banging in goals, Kalidou Koulibaly still as impressive in defence as ever and Lorenzo Insigne a fully-fledged Azzurri international, we are up against it.
But with Dries Mehrtens in their side, they always have the potential to score. The tricky Belgian predominantly plays out wide, but his goal ratio screams of a bona fide striking threat. It is his runs that cause so much concern, and his ghosting into the area, allied with his positional sense and unerring finishing, means our backline will need every iota of concentration to keep the little forward quiet.
How This Could Go
Emery knows we need to win, and if it is one of those occasions when we turn up, we could go at them from the off. Wily veteran Carlo Ancelotti will have his men well briefed, but if we go full throttle and aim for goals early, we could really unsettle them.
Aubameyang has been suffering with illness recently, hence his lack of starts lately. Now the Gabon striker is fit and firing, and with Laca’s fine form and Ozil’s return to sharpness, we have the firepower to really hurt them.
The crucial thing though, is avoiding conceding. If Napoli come away from The Emirates with a goal, we will need triple that at the very least if we are to harbour any hopes of knocking them out. A solitary goal lead with our away form will not be enough.
We need a two goal buffer, and that may not be enough either. The task is simple for our men – win this leg convincingly. Should we fail that? Napoli will look at our away form and know they can retrieve the situation.
We will too.
Good luck Gunners!