ARSENAL head to Belgium to face Standard Liege in their final Europa League group game of the season. Chris Bland (@blandc_1996) analyses the odds.
Standard Liege v Arsenal | Thursday 12th December 2019, 17:55 | BT Sport
Standard Liege host Arsenal in the final group game of the Europa League, as Freddie Ljungberg looks to build upon a first win as Arsenal boss, and avoid a humiliating defeat that would send the Gunners out at the Belgian side’s expense.
It would take both a five-goal victory, and a win for Frankfurt at home to Vitoria, to swing against Arsenal. And whilst the latter is probable, it would take a ridiculous implosion for the Gunners to be sent packing at the first stage of asking.
However, with Frankfurt’s indifferent form meaning a win over Vitoria is not a formality, it sets up an interesting tie from Liege’s perspective, who will be confident of shocking the Gunners and giving themselves a chance to qualify.
Ljungberg to rotate?
Arsenal have seen their injury list grow, and travel to Belgium without full-backs Hector Bellerin and Kieran Tierney, whilst Dani Ceballos has also been ruled out.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is expected to be rested, and it could mean a chance to shine for both French striker Alexandre Lacazette, as well as the London side’s young guns such as Bukayo Saka and Joe Willock.
Standard to attack
Standard come into the game on the back of 2-2 draw with Mouscron, which has left them lying third in the Belgian top-flight; Liege were forced to play 42 minutes with 10-men following influential midfielder Paul-Jose M’Poku’s red card.
Goals have been free-flowing for Michel Preud'homme's side, with the hosts racking up 35 domestically, however, they have shown to be open at the back, and this was more than evident in the reverse fixture in October, where Arsenal ran out 4-0 winners.
Much has changed since that tie, and Standard have taken maximum points from both their home games, so what angles does that open up for us?
The betting angles
It is certainly a match in which Standard are going to have a go at some point, and with Arsenal’s leaky defence and potentially much changed XI, it would be no surprise to see Liege rack up the shot count in search of the required goals.
Although the Belgians are only averaging 10.60 shots, this should jump up given the context of the match, especially given Arsenal are allowing 16.30 attempts per-game in all competitions.
Identifying the main Liege threats, striker Renaud Emond is top scoring with seven goals domestically, whilst winger Maxime Lestienne is close behind with six. Lestienne has scored in his last two games for Standard in the Europa League, and netted once again on the weekend, and the midfielder could hold the key to breaking down the Arsenal defence.
The context of the game, coupled with Arsenal’s open defence, means that Lestienne will be amongst those racking up the opportunities, and as a result, takes appeal in the shots market. He is averaging a shot every 35 minutes in the Europa League, and given the added bonus he is on penalties, is an appealing option at 1/1 (SkyBet) to have a shot on-target.
Given the open nature of the expected game, and the fact Liege will be searching for early goals, it could see a frantic start to the match. Arsenal will have to weather a storm, however, this could leave the hosts open to counter attacks early, something the likes of Saka and Lacazette will be keen to exploit.
As a result, an early goal would not be a surprise, and available at 5/6 (Bet365), a goal in the first 25 minutes appeals. Game management will be key early on for the Gunners, but they’ll be equally as keen to put the tie, and any lingering doubts regarding qualification, to bed.