Arsenal’s next step on our Europa League adventure has seen us travel to the capital of Azerbaijan, Baku, to take on Qarabag.
Our seven match winning run is on the line, but Unai Emery has had his hand forced into making some changes.
The Spaniard would most likely have rotated his side for this Europa League encounter, but he was also at pains to stress that he and his charges will respect our opponents, no matter how many changes are made.
During his press conference, he stated that he had watched back their opening group game versus Sporting Lisbon, and although they lost the game 2-0, they gave a very good account of themselves. Emery also referred to the two matches Atletico Madrid played in Baku last years - and failed to win.
Qarabag will set up to stifle, and they have a troublesome forward in Innocent Meghara who will give a stern test to whoever plays in our defence - but who will play?
Aaron Ramsey, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan all stayed at home for this away trip - and for very differing reasons.
Ramsey’s wife is due to give birth to twins, Aubameyang is sick and stayed at home as a precaution - and no indicator as to his availability for our weekend’s Premier League fixture. and Mkhitaryan stayed in England with Azerbaijan being in direct conflict with his home country, Armenia.
Despite these omissions, Emery will shake things up. Bernd Leno could keep the gloves, but Emi Martinez stands by. Sead Kolasinac will most likely start ahead of Nacho Monreal as the Spanish full-back has played many consecutive games without a break.
With Auba not in the squad, Danny Welbeck could get the nod, although Lacazette travelled with the squad. With Auba unclear whether he will be fit for the weekend, the fitness of Laca is even more vital, so expect Welbeck to get the nod here.
In midfield, Matteo Guendouzi could be recalled in midfield, as could Mohamed Elneny, who seems to be part of Emery’s plans in the Europa League. Another player who could get the nod is Emile Smith-Rowe, the youngster may well get some valuable minutes in this game.
How This Game Could Go
It is no coincidence that Emery reminded journalists that Qarabag have held illustrious opponents in the recent past. The very real threat of us dropping points is something he will have meticulously planned for. A strong squad has been taken to Baku, and a win here is one of the group stage’s banana skins avoided.
Much will depend on our creative players. Will Ozil play? He could well be given the armband, with Ramsey, Cech and Koscielny all out. With Qarabag most likely setting up on the counter, our ability to create openings will be vital.
Our wide men could do the trick, and with Alex Iwobi on fire, the Nigerian may be called upon to play here.
This will be a tight game, if we don’t break the deadlock early so we can lure them out from deep. Also, if our defence is easily hassled, then we could struggle, especially with a heavily shuffled backline.