Arsenal vs Dundalk | Thursday 29th October 2020, 20:00 | BT Sport
Arsenal go off as 1/16 favourites for their first Europa League home match of the season against Dundalk from the League of Ireland.
It is the first time since the 2016/17 season that Dundalk have qualified for the Europa League, where they finished fourth in the group. They have a huge task ahead of them with Arsenal and Rapid Vienna looking strong favourites for qualification to the knockout stages from Group B.
Arsenal had to throw on their more senior players to defeat Rapid Vienna last week and were poor on the night, if truth be told, and lucky to come away with three points. Yet their record at The Emirates is quite impressive: unbeaten in 12 of their last 14 here in Europe.
Recent performances haven’t quite been there for Arsenal. They fare rather poorly on the performance data, sitting fourth bottom in the Premier League for shots taken (average 8.8), in the bottom half for Expected Points (xP) and even behind the likes of Crystal Palace in xG.
One thing that can be said about Mikel Arteta’s side though is that it is seemingly more settled, and currently transitioning to a new style of play and management, becoming more pragmatic and solid defensively.
Before Arteta, they were outrageously bad defensively and the Spaniard has already improved that, and they have a set way of playing which is what the players are adapting to. It’s now about finding balance at the top end of the pitch, but they do need better performances from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – who has only contributed an assist since penning that three year multi-million-pound contract.
The bookies are of course expecting a routine home victory but when the odds on your favourite markets are slashed its best to get creative. This leads me onto my bets for this encounter where Bukayo Saka takes centre stage.
The young Englishman looked a threat against Leicester last weekend where he played in a left-wing position, a game where he had the most shots on the pitch (four), with two troubling Kasper Schmeichel’s palms.
The fact that Saka is so versatile at such a young age, being utilised at full-back, wing-back and also as a winger, suggests only good things about his future. I do prefer watching him in the attacking three though and that’s where I’m hoping he plays his part on Thursday evening.
Betfair have Saka priced up at 21/10 to score anytime and I’ll have a bet on that. Considering its as short as 6/4 elsewhere I do wonder whether Betfair are expecting to play at left wing-back for The Gunners. I would wait until team news to place but if he were to start higher up the pitch in a front three these odds may plummet.
Despite only notching two career goals for the senior team, Saka often finds himself in goalscoring opportunities, even when at wing-back with license to pull up at the back post. In a game where there is no value in backing Arsenal or even the more regular goalscorers, Saka looks like the way in here at a nice price.
The 19-year-old is some 100/1 to register his first ever career hat-trick (Betfair) and that looks like a bet for some fun given the likelihood of quite a few Arsenal goals.
Dundalk should really just take this opportunity to embrace such an occasion. It’s a shame there are no supporters there to witness it. They ran close against Molde, taking an early lead but couldn’t keep out two second half goals to see them defeated.
A trip to The Emirates however resembles the biggest football match since Dundalk’s origination in the early 1900’s. The Lilywhites travel to North London with a fully fit squad for manager Filippo Giovagnoli to choose from and their eyes will be set at getting a goal to their name.