Championship Play-Off Final: Michael Owen’s View
Already through to the last 32 of the Europa League, it could be assumed that Arsenal and Chelsea might take it easy on Thursday night. Indeed, faced with opposition they should overcome easily – Arsenal take on Qarabag while Chelsea are up against Vidi – drama, the kind that leads fans to the edge of their seat, might be in short supply.
But nonetheless, this week’s fixtures will present both teams with a useful exercise. There might not be a great deal on the line, but Unai Emery and Maurizio Sarri would be foolish not to make use of the opportunity to fine tune and experiment with a few things. It could benefit them both in the Europa League and Premier League as the 2018/19 season rolls on.
Emery has made a great deal of progress over the early part of the campaign, with Arsenal looking a good bet for a top four place. There’s an intensity and tempo to their play that was missing over the final few years of the Arsene Wenger era, as demonstrated in the 4-2 North London derby win over Spurs earlier this month.
However, with Mesut Ozil and Danny Welbeck both injured, Emery’s side are lighter in the attacking areas than they perhaps would like to be the case at this hectic time of the season. In midfield, too, Arsenal don’t have much depth. And so Emery should use this week’s dead rubber against Qarabag to try out a few options, maybe dipping into the youth ranks.
Arsenal to win 1/5
Sarri isn’t really one for rotation. The Italian coach has settled on a favoured starting lineup and has stuck by it in the Premier League. In the Europa League, though, Sarri has used a distinctly second string team, leading some to question whether he actually wants to win the competition, whether he believes a deep run to the latter rounds would hinder his side in the Premier League.
If you’re on the outside of Sarri’s preferred team looking in, it’s unlikely you will be given a shot in the big games. Sarri knows what he likes and barring injuries or suspensions he rarely strays from that. But the Italian should change his ways this Thursday by mixing some regulars with fringe players to come up with some solutions to certain issues.
Chelsea are still light up front, with neither Olivier Giroud nor Alvaro Morata nailing down the position. Perhaps Sarri could experiment with using Pedro there? Or continue using Eden Hazard as a ‘false nine’ to ensure his team are totally accustomed to the Belgian being deployed in that way. Arsenal and Chelsea’s final Europa League group fixtures might technically be dead-rubbers, but they could still be of use to both Emery and Sarri.
Arsenal to win 7/10