Arsenal vs Vorskla – Thursday, September 20, 20:00BST/21:00 CEST – Arsenal Stadium, London, England
Expect a heavy rotated side when Arsenal host Vorskla Poltava in the London-based club’s first fixture without manager Arséne Wenger since 1996. The long-serving French manager left the club this summer after having been in charge at the North London side for 22 years.
What has not changed is the UEFA competition. For the second year in a row, Arsenal will be competing in the UEFA Europa League after finishing sixth in the English Premier League last season. For years Arsenal have been a mainstay in the Champions League, but Arséne Wenger’s refusal to spend big on the squad meant that the North Londoners slowly but surely dropped out of the top four in England.
Furthermore, the avenue of reaching the Champions League by winning the Europa League was blocked by a much stronger Atlético Madrid side, who eliminated Arsenal in the semifinals of the competition. A paradigm shift was, therefore, necessary for the Gunners as Wenger announced last spring that he would leave the club. He was eventually replaced by Unai Emery.
The Spaniard is now supposed to guide Arsenal back to the Champions League, either by finishing in the top four in the Premier League or by winning the Europa League. The possibility of qualifying for the UCL via this competition will not, however, change Arsenal’s approach from last year. The group stage was largely used to field players, who were not starting for Arsenal in the Premier League.
Given their first opponent in the competition fielding some of the fringe players makes sense. Vorskla Poltava may have been the biggest surprise in the Ukrainian Premier League last season but the Ukrainians will find life in the Europa League tough going.
Guided by 43-year-old head coach Vasyl Sachko Vorskla surprisingly finished third, ahead of Zorya Luhansk, and behind big boys Dynamo Kyiv and Shakhtar Donetsk last season. Sachko has been at the club, first as a player, then as an assistant and now as a coach, since 2008. It is the sort of stability that is unheard of for many Ukrainian clubs.
At the same time, Vorskla, like their competitors Zorya, have been a haven of stability in Ukrainian football, which has been largely overshadowed with the problems stemming from the war in the Donbass, corruption, bankruptcies and match-fixing. Consistent performances and Zorya struggling with the having to play in Europe have meant that Vorskla were able to finish third in the league and qualify for the group stage of a European competition for the first time since the 2011/12 season.
This season, however, Vorskla had a bit of a slow start. Just 12 points from eight games mean that the Poltava based club is sitting in fifth place in the table behind Shakhtar, surprise side Oleksandriya and Zorya. Just seven goals and ten goals conceded already highlight that the club is missing the sort of stability that saw them finish in the top three last season and Arsenal should have an easy time breezing past them at home.
Arsenal vs Vorskla – Players to look out for:
Henrikh Mkhitaryan #7 – Arsenal
Arsenal’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan played in Ukraine from 2009–2013 for Metalurh Donetsk and Shakhtar Donetsk, scoring twice in the league against Vorskla for each club. Now he returns to Ukraine with Arsenal whom he joined from Manchester United last January. The Armenian played six games in the Europa League for the Gunners scoring one goal and two assists.
Artur #35 – Vorskla
Brazilian left-back Artur joined Vorskla this summer from Internacional Porto Alegre where he recently struggled to make it into the first team. On loan to Grêmio Esportivo and Criciúma Esporte Clube in the Serie B over the last two seasons, Artur was once considered a bright talent playing 19 games for Internacional during the 2016 season. But the club was relegated at the end of the season and Artur requested a loan move to AA Ponte Preta where he never managed to establish himself in the first side. Still only 24 Artur now hopes to make a name for himself in Ukraine.
Arsenal vs Vorskla – Match Stats
- Whereas Vorskla are meeting English opposition for the first time, Arsenal have faced Ukrainian clubs on ten previous occasions and have a perfectly even record of four wins, four defeats, 15 goals scored and the same number conceded.
- At home the London side are unbeaten against Ukrainian visitors, winning four of the five games, all in the UEFA Champions League group stage, and drawing the other – 1-1 against Dynamo Kyiv at Wembley Stadium in 1998/99, when the visitors scored an added-time equaliser.
- The Gunners finished sixth in the 2017/18 Premier League – their lowest final placing under Arsène Wenger in his swansong season as manager after 22 years. It did earn them a second successive qualification for the UEFA Europa League group stage.
- Vorskla secured a place in this season’s UEFA Europa League group stage by finishing third in the 2017/18 Ukrainian Premier League – their joint-highest ever final placing, matching their achievement in 1996/97, when they qualified for Europe for the first time.
- This is the club’s seventh European campaign and their second in the UEFA Europa League group stage. They had to win three qualifying ties to make the grade in 2011/12, including a play-off success against Dinamo Bucureşti, but their six group games yielded just two points and bottom place in a section featuring Standard Liège, Hannover and FC København.
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Arsenal vs Vorskla – 5-0
Arsenal vs Vorskla – Lineups
Leno – Monreal, Sokratis, Mavropanos, Lichtsteiner – Elneny, Torreira – Mkhitaryan, Guendouzi, Ramsey – Welbeck
Head Coach: Unai Emery
Shust – Artur, Dallku, Perduta – Chesnakov, Kobakhidze, Rebenok, Sharpar, Sklyar – Kulach, Careca
Head Coach: Vasyl Sachko
Manuel Veth is the owner and Editor in Chief of the Futbolgrad Network. He also works as a freelance journalist and among others works for the Bundesliga and Pro Soccer USA. He holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which is available HERE. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.