After reaching the final of Europe’s second-best club competition last season, the 4-1 loss to Chelsea in Baku’s showpiece came somewhat obviously as bitterly disappointing for Arsenal fans.
That defeat brought with it another plight in the Europa League, as a top four finish also evaded the red half of north London, so Unai Emery’s men are back to the competition the manager knows all about.
First on the calendar of their third successive run in the tournament is a clash against Eintracht Frankfurt at the Commerzbank-Arena on Thursday night in their opening group clash. Last season’s semi-finalists are certainly no pushovers, and were one of the sides to avoid when the draw was made.
With their defensive struggles still evident following the second half collapse against Watford in the ?Premier League, Emery will need to select the right XI to take on the ?Bundesliga side if he is to avert the gaze from the mounting pressure on his shoulders.
Here’s how Emery should line up on Thursday.
Goalkeeper & Defenders
Bernd Leno (GK) – Play your best goalkeeper whenever you can. At ?Arsenal, that is Leno without any shadow of a doubt. The German made the most saves of any stopper in a single top flight match so far this season against Watford and has become one of the first names on the teamsheet since arriving last summer.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles (RB) – At present, there is nobody else who can play here. Hector Bellerin is still not match fit, and you would have to delve deep into the youth ranks to pick up a player who is a right-back by trade. Maitland-Niles by default.
Calum Chambers (CB) – After a fairly solid display on the opening day win over Newcastle, Chambers was subsequently dropped, as ?David Luiz replaced him for the following four league matches. The Englishman should come back for this tie, but it says a lot when a player who was relegated with Fulham last season has to come in to be the saviour.
Sokratis (CB) – Held his hands up for his appalling error at Vicarage Road, a gift that presented the Hornets with their opening goal. He’ll still play here, simply because neither Dinos Mavropanos or Rob Holding are match fit and because David Luiz is, well, David Luiz.
Sead Kolasinac (LB) – *Read aforementioned Maitland-Niles entry and replace Bellerin with Kieran Tierney*.
Lucas Torreira (CM) – Came off the bench for the most recent outing and while he didn’t exude confidence in his Watford cameo, nobody really did. With a pretty robust midfield trio to come up against on Thursday, his tenacity will be key when the Gunners are out of possession.
Joe Willock (CM) – The youth academy star was awarded with new long-term contract recently after breaking into the first-team fold last season. His eagerness and desire are unquestionable, and his regular outings in this competition last season mean he’s fully versed in what is needed away from home in Europe. Will provide the link between defence and attack on Thursday.
Dani Ceballos (CAM) – Playing in a deeper role last weekend to accommodate ?Mesut Ozil in the side, Ceballos still showed his class on occasions, but is far more suited to an attacking midfield role where his technical ability can flourish. With a much greater work-rate than the German, his industry will be essential at the
Nicolas Pepe (RW) – Still yet to get off the mark in Arsenal colours, the Ivorian had his worst game to date for the club in the 2-2 draw with Watford. Nevertheless, with Frankfurt favouring a back three that boasts attacking full-backs, his pace and trickery mean he’s useful both on the counter-attack and when face-to-face with the sluggish Frankfurt backline.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (ST) – With ?Alexandre Lacazette out of action until October, ?Aubameyang will once again reprise his favoured role of centre forward. With a scoring rate second only to Mohamed Salah in the ?Premier League since his arrival on these shores, the Gunners’ key threat will lead the line once more.
Reiss Nelson (LW) – His most recent start under Emery saw him substituted at half-time against Burnley. While that was not an ideal performance for the 19-year-old, Alex Iwobi’s sale during the summer was a signal of intent from Emery that Nelson will have chances this season. As another speed merchant across the front line, Nelson will be tasked with stretching Frankfurt and allowing Ceballos to find gaps in between the lines.