Arsenal vs CSKA Moscow – Thursday, April 5, 20:05 BST/21:05 CEST – Emirates Stadium, London, United Kingdom
Arsène Wenger’s lifespan as manager of Arsenal is about the nearest thing to quantum physics in the realm of sport. After 22 years and counting at the helm of the Gunners and some significant early success, his most recent decade or so has lurched from disappointment to fan protest, and yet his control on the club appears as strong as ever from the outside. His remit to return the club to the Champions League has been delivered almost without fail – last season was the first in 18 that he didn’t guide the club to the top table – but it is looking increasingly like his only route back into Europe in any form is by winning the Europa League itself.
Last weekend a limp performance saw Arsenal booed off the pitch by their fans at half time against second-bottom Stoke City. A late three-goal spree saved their blushes ultimately, and although Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored twice to take his tally to five in his first six games, there is no papering over how huge this tie against CSKA is. Alexandre Lacazette has struggled to impose himself on the first-team sheet since the Gabonese superstar’s arrival from Borussia Dortmund and will be desperate to grab the attention of national team manager Didier Deschamps ahead of the World Cup. With Aubameyang being cup-tied, this is an ideal opportunity.
Fortunately, there are very few injury concerns for Wenger. David Ospina is likely to resume Europa League duties ahead of regular number one Petr Čech, while Mohamed Elneny – who will face many of CSKA’s players in the crucial second match of Group A this summer representing Egypt – is all but guaranteed to start following his new contract signed recently. A packed midfield full of international experience will present a tactical challenge for Viktor Goncharenko.
After Lokomotiv Moscow’s shock defeat on their ground to Russian Premier Football League strugglers Amkar Perm last weekend, the domestic title race has opened up to CSKA. Whether the Armymen can afford to spread their resources to the limit across two fronts for the remainder of the season is a question of priorities for Goncharenko, but their league run-in is significantly easier than most of their direct rivals. Only two more away matches remain in the RFPL, so perhaps they will sense an opportunity to go for the jugular.
CSKA’s away form in Europe has been surprisingly strong this season, and with poor attendances and atmosphere plaguing the Emirates,, there is more reason than on paper for optimism in the Russian camp. There is no avoiding the tense political context smothering this tie after the Salisbury poisoning and subsequent mudslinging from both government; on the pitch, however, such matters will cease to have an influence.
Mario Fernandes and Viktor Vasin are both out with long-term injuries, but the rest of the squad is available. The only potential concerns to add at this stage are the bans that would be triggered for the return leg in Moscow if either Pontus Wernbloom or Bibras Natkho receive a booking. At the weekend Vitinho and Konstantin Kuchaev were rested from the starting lineup so can expect to be called upon, especially in light of Kirill Nababkin’s suspension in the latter’s case, which would most likely mean Pontus Wernbloom moving back to defence alongside the Berezutskiy twins Aleksey and Vasiliy. Sergey Ignashevich rarely plays more than one match in a week, so having played his 800th match for the club at the weekend is likely to start on the bench.
Arsenal vs CSKA Moscow – Players to Watch
Alexandre Lacazette #9 – Arsenal
The hulking Frenchman arrived under great fanfare last summer as the answer to Arsenal’s striking problems but has not found playing time easy to come by under Wenger. A consistent successful scoring record in France is ample demonstration of the former Lyon forward’s goalscoring threat, and his physical presence and instinctive finishing will be a major threat to CSKA’s hopes of emerging from the first leg in reach of a positive result. Although he is yet to feature in the competition – in part due to injury – his impact could put the tie to bed before the return in Moscow next week.
Pontus Wernbloom #3 – CSKA Moscow
The Swedish enforcer has become even more critical since his development into an all-round player capable of playing right through the spine of the entire team. In European matches, he has played in all three lines but is most likely to be positioned in defence to provide an aggressive but mobile counterbalance to nullify Lacazette. Later in the tie, he may be moved further forward depending on the circumstances, but wherever he plays his leadership will be crucial to keeping CSKA organised and in control.
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Arsenal vs CSKA Moscow – 2-1
Arsenal vs CSKA Moscow – Match Stats
- CSKA Moscow have lost their last five matches against English clubs
- Arsenal failed to score in both of the last two meetings in the 2006-07 Champions League group stage
- Arsenal haven’t conceded in their last three home matches against Russian opposition
- Arsenal had conceded 18 goals in their last seven home European matches in the spring, losing six of them
- CSKA have won five of their seven European away matches this season
- This equals CSKA’s best performance in the Europa League since winning its previous incarnation 13 years ago
Arsenal vs CSKA Moscow – Possible Lineups
Ospina – Koscielny, Chambers, Mustafi – Bellerín, Xhaka, Elneny, Kolašinac – Özil, Mkhitaryan – Lacazette
Manager: Arsène Wenger
Akinfeev – Vasiliy Berezutskiy, Wernbloom, Alexey Berezutskiy – Schennikov, Dzagoev, Natkho, Golovin, Kuchaev – Vitinho, Musa
Manager: Viktor Goncharenko
Andrew Flint is an English freelance football writer living in Tyumen, Western Siberia, with his wife and two daughters. He has featured on These Football Times, Russian Football News, Four Four Two and Sovetski Sport, mostly focusing on full-length articles about derbies, youth development and the game in Russia. Due to his love for FC Tyumen, he is particularly interested in lower league Russian football, and is looking to establish himself in time for the 2018 World Cup. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewMijFlint.