The Europa League is back, and the latest round of fixtures sees us travel to Lisbon to take on Sporting, in what will surely be our toughest test of the group stage.
Unai Emery’s men will be going to Portugal full of confidence, after our 3-1 win over Leicester that made it ten consecutive victories, and our Spanish coach will know that if we make it eleven, then our passage through to the knockout stages of this competition will be almost secured.
Emery is keen to do well in this competition - his pedigree demands it - but will most likely ring the changes for this fixture, although an entirely different eleven will probably be out of the question.
There is also the question of rhythm too, and a vastly different side will disrupt any flow our team may have. Our attack especially will be keen to continue in the same vein, after hitting eight goals in our last two matches.
Sporting represent a stiffer task than Vorskla and Qarabag however. The Portuguese outfit have a decent record in Europe, and were put out in the Quarter-Finals last season by the eventual winners. With a squad capable of punishing our inviting defence, we will need to be at our most rigid at the back if we are to come back to London with the points.
Laurent Koscielny is still not fit enough to play, but his first full training session since his horror injury in April is great news. With Konstandinos Mavropanos out too, Emery could opt for the returning Sokratis, with either Holding or Mustafi making way, but most likely the Greek defender will be spared, and our established pairing will continue.
Our left-back position is undecided too. Nacho Monreal and Sead Kolasinac will both be assessed before the game, and Stephane Lichtsteiner stands by to fill in if needed. If our Swiss defender is called upon to give Bellerin a rest on the right, then young Zach Medley could get a run, as he was on the bench as cover for our win over the Foxes on Monday evening.
In midfield, Matteo Guendouzi and Aaron Ramsey seem to be the viable choices, as both have been bench warmers in the last few and would provide freshness, as would Mohamed Elneny.
Our attack has been in rude health, but playing both Lacazette and Aubameyang in this game makes no sense. Emery has been favouring Auba in this competition so far, and the Gabon striker’s cameos in our last two games mean he should take the striking spot. Danny Welbeck and Henrikh Mkhitaryan are options that could be used too, giving us a strong lineup, while rotating sufficiently to give players a breather.
How the match will go
Sporting are a technical team and will want to play on the deck, which will suit us. They are in 5th spot at the moment in their own league, but they do have some physical players that can bully us, not least Roberto Battaglia and Bruno Cesar.
We need to be touch tight to Bas Dost in our box, the Dutchman has some excellent finishing skills, and ex Red Devil Nani is capable of the unexpected. They also have some sage and skilled defenders, with Jeremy Mathieu and Sebastian Coates sure to give our frontline a rigorous test.
We need to remain calm and stick to our plan, even in the face of what will surely be gamesmanship. Sporting have plenty of experience and will know that we can hurt them if given space, so expect the first half to be niggly, perhaps even with us going a goal down. The second half needs to have a single mantra - stick to the plan. We will wear them down if we stretch them, and with some decent subs, we could nick the points here.