THE EUROPA LEAGUE returns on Thursday night. Here Adam Goodwin (@AGJournalism) picks out his favourite fancy from Arsenal's encounter with Ostersund.
Ostersund v Arsenal | Thursday 15th February 2018, 18:00 | BT Sport
Swedish side Ostersunds have defied the odds by reaching the knockout stages of the Europa League and they’ll be relishing a visit from Arsenal to the Jämtkraft Arena.
Arsenal will leave the comforts of the Emirates Stadium to play on the snowy terrain in Sweden on Thursday, but how will they cope?
Ostersunds only narrowly missed out on top spot in Group J to Athletic Bilboa, but they recorded victories over Zorya and Hertha Berlin and put in some great performances along the way.
An incredible feat for a club that was founded after Arsene Wenger took over as Arsenal manager. Nobody expected the small club from Sweden to qualify from a group involving two European heavyweights in Bilboa and Hertha, so for Graham Potter’s side to only missed out on first place on head-to-head is remarkable.
The 2-2 draw at home to Bilboa will give them huge confidence when Arsenal travel to the Jämtkraft Arena on Thursday.
There’s been a lot of talk surrounding Osterunds English manager Graham Potter leading up to this game – especially after he was heavily linked with the Stoke job after Mark Hughes was sacked. But the Swedish club also have a few English players that will be revelling in the chance to play against the Gunners.
Andrew Mills, Jamie Hopcutt and Curtis Edwards are the UK-born players in the Ostersunds ranks, and they all started their careers in the English non-leagues. They’ll be excited to play against some of the Arsenal stars that they’ve only played against on FIFA…
The conditions in Sweden could play a key part in the result, with the temperatures set to reach as low as -4 degrees in Ostersunds. With plenty of snow on the pitch and around the ground, how will Arsene Wenger’s side handle the extreme conditions?
Arsenal come into this one on the back of 1-0 defeat to North London rivals Tottenham at the weekend. It was a really poor performance from the Gunners and they were a shadow of the side that demolished Everton 5-1 the week before.
It’s hard to judge whether this Arsenal side is stronger or weaker now they’ve lost Alexis Sanchez and brought in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrik Mkhitaryan, but whichever side they put out in Sweden you’d have to fancy them to beat a city with a smaller population than the Emirates.
With the top four looking a real longshot for Arsenal now, it’s vital that they win this competition to secure Champions League football next season. They’re now eight points behind Chelsea in fourth and if they don’t get into Europe’s most prestigious trophy for the second season in a row, the big names might think about leaving North London for bigger and better things.
Arsenal have a major striking crisis heading into this game. With Olivier Giroud gone, Aubameyang cup-tied and Alexandre Lacazette injured, it’ll be down to Danny Welbeck or youngster Eddie Nketiah to lead the line on Thursday. Not ideal for Wenger.
I’m going to take a punt on Ostersunds +1 on the Asian Handicap at 11/10 with Sun Bets for this one. With Welbeck as their only fit striker and the current, horrendous conditions in Sweden, I think Arsenal’s poor away form will continue.
They haven’t won a game away from the Emirates in 2018 yet, so things could get even worse for the Gunners when they have to endure the icy temperatures in Sweden.
Ostersunds will be buoyed by their great results at home to Bilboa and Hertha in the group stages, and Potter and his team will be raring to go when Arsenal come to town.
Ostersund v Arsenal – Osterstund +1 Asian Handicap (11/10 Sun Bets)