The Europa League enters it’s serious phase as the quarter-finals are finally upon us in Europe’s secondary competition.
England have two representatives remaining and both teams got favourable draws, with the Manchester United coming up against La Liga side Granada, while Arsenal will come up against Czech Republican’s Slavia Prague.
The Gunners made it into the last eight after leaving it late to get past Benfica in the round of 32 before beating Olympiacos in their away leg and losing at the Emirates, scraping through with a 3-2 aggregate win. Slavia Prague on the other hand have been the British slayers so far in the knockout rounds, holding Leicester to a 0-0 draw at home before beating them 2-0 at the King Power. They then took on Steven Gerrard’s Rangers side, drawing 1-1 in Prague before beating them 2-0 at Ibrox.
Arsenal will come into this game off the back of a not-so great run with just two wins in their last six games in all competitions and none in their last three, including a thumping at home this past weekend by an out of sorts Liverpool side.
Slavia Prague on the other hand are unbeaten in all competitions since back in December, winning 16 of the 21 fixtures they’ve played since a Europa League group stage defeat to Bayer Leverkusen. They’ve proven to be a very stubborn outfit to play against, not giving up many chances but also posing a threat at the other end.
Arteta’s side have arguably been better in Europe than domestically, although plenty can be said about the quality of opposition they have faced on the continent this year. Stylistically though, it seems to work a bit better for them. They have more space to operate in and the creative outlets like Bukayo Saka, Martin Odegaard, Emile Smith Rowe and Nicolas Pepe are allowed to cook up more problems for the opposition.
As for Slavia Prague, they have kept five clean sheets in their last six Europa League games and the pace and directness of their star man Abdallah Sima could be an issue for Arsenal’s leaky defence. He’s supported by a high quality cast too including striker Jan Kutcha and playmaker Nicolae Stanciu.
The north London side’s best chance of victory will come if they can keep hold of the ball, recycle possession well and move the ball from side to side quickly, trying to disorganise the Slavia defence. They will need to be careful on the counter attack and this will likely be their toughest tie of the competition so far.
They will know however that a win will see them enter the semi-finals for a game against either Villarreal or Shakhtar, meaning a potential reunion with former manager Unai Emery – who got them into the final of this competition during his only full season at the helm.
Overall, I doubted Prague in the last two rounds and they silenced me but I’m willing to go for the hat-trick in this one. Arsenal have got a lot of individual quality in comparison to their opposition squad and despite the poor run of results domestically, if Slavia Prague were able to progress into the next round over two legs it would without a doubt be considered an upset.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette will need to find their goalscoring boots once again to help against a pretty sturdy defence but even if they don’t, Arsenal should have enough about them to be able to secure a win over two legs.
Arsenal 2-0 Slavia Prague
Slavia Prague 1-0 Arsenal
(Arsenal to progress 2-1 on aggregate)