Arsenal’s win over Huddersfield on Saturday was not pretty, but it was enough to ensure the Gunners kept up pressure in the chase for the top four. Now, with the next Premier League game not for two weeks and the club out of the FA Cup, the club must turn their attention to the Europa League.
The clubs next two fixtures will be early kick offs in the Europa League (17:55 UK Time) against BATE Borisov, starting with the away leg this Thursday. Although there was an initial improvement in away form when Unai Emery arrived, this has not lasted with the club struggling to perform on the road of late. It will be key that the Gunners gain a positive result to take back to the Emirates, but who will be key to the clubs success in this tournament?
Swiss international Granit Xhaka has been absent in the last couple of league games and subsequently the team has seriously lacked control in the game. He has some weaknesses, but his value to the team, in my opinion, far outweighs these. Xhaka will be a vital part of helping the team establish dominance over their opponents from deep in this competition. If you remember back to last season, Xhaka was exceptional in both legs against AC Milan at doing just this.
Xhaka and Sokratis in light training (via Xhaka’s Instagram)— Jeorge Bird (@jeorgebird) February 6, 2019
Arsenal’s defence hasn’t looked good all season but it has certainly performed better when Sokratis has been in the team. Look at the FA Cup game where Arsenal were dominating until the Greek defender limped off injured, then it all fell apart. For the Europa League Arsenal need to ensure they have a strong backline and for me that should include Laurent Koscielny alongside Sokratis as the first choice defensive pairing.
Lots will talk about Lacazette and Aubameyang as Arsenal’s biggest attacking threats and quite rightly, but with Mesut Ozil out of favour, Alex Iwobi will need to continue his improvement this season and take his game to the next level to help deliver silverware for the club. Without Iwobi and other attacking midfielders Lacazette and Aubameyang will not receive the service they need to score the vital goals. Iwobi must ensure his end product is perfected to help the team be as efficient as possible in attack. The Nigerian’s pace, braveness and unpredictability give him great qualities to make the difference in knockout matches.