Arsenal v Rapid Vienna
Thursday 03 December, 20:00
Live on BT Sport 2
Europa providing ray of light in Arsenal’s gloom
While Arsenal have stormed into the last 32 of the Europa League with a couple of games to spare, they exist in a much darker parallel universe in the Premier League.
A 2-1 home defeat to Wolves on Sunday confirmed the Gunners’ worst ever start to a PL season (their worst in the top division for 39 years), and the success of bitter rivals Tottenham adds further salt to wounds that are already painful.
At least the limited return of fans will provide something of a lift, with 2,000 fans allowed to attend the match following the end of a national lockdown. The tickets sold out in 20 minutes, despite the team’s current malaise.
Ahead of this weekend’s North London derby, Arsenal will once again shuffle their pack significantly, and the mix of fringe players and young talents has performed well so far. Nicolas Pepe blotted his copybook with a recent red card in a goalless draw at Leeds United, but in the UEL the Ivorian has delivered three goals and two assists in just four matches. Joe Willock has produced some fine midfield displays and has bagged a couple of goals, while young forwards like Eddie Nketiah and Folarin Balogun have seized chances to shine by finding the net.
Arsenal still have a long injury list, and neither Pablo Mari nor Calum Chambers are thought to be fit enough to feature here. Sead Kolasinac has been absent since testing positive for COVID-19, and David Luiz could be rested after a sickening clash of heads with Raul Jimenez against Wolves. Thomas Partey is out with a thigh injury.
Rapid in with a chance of progress
After beating whipping-boys Dundalk home and away, Rapid Vienna are still in the mix to qualify for the last 32, with their fate likely to be decided next week against Molde. The Norwegians are expected to beat Dundalk, but if Rapid could somehow getter a better result against Arsenal than Molde manage, then they would merely need to avoid defeat on Matchday Six.
Rapid had the lead against Arsenal on Matchday One, but collapsed to a 2-1 defeat, and defending has been their problem all season. They haven’t kept a clean sheet since the first week of October, a run of ten games without a shut-out. On the flipside, they are scoring plenty of goals – they have rattled in three goals in each of their last two away games, and they have netted at least twice in five of their last six road matches.
Rapid have a long injury list, but in-form attackers Christoph Knasmullner and Taxiarchis Fountas are both fit to start.
Gunners are worthy favourites
Arsenal have blossomed in the Europa League so far, and the presence of fans in the stadium will be a real boost, even if it is only a couple of thousand. Rapid aren’t to be taken lightly, and they did give the Gunners a big scare in Austria, but a positive result for the visitors would still be a surprise.
Goals the route to profit
Rapid don’t keep clean sheets, but they do have quality in attack, and regularly score at home and away. They have already shown they can make headway against the Gunners’ defence, so it’s reasonable to suggest we might see both teams find the net.
If you back Arsenal to win or draw, both teams to score and Over 2.5 Goals, you get a combined price of 2.021/1 on the Same Game Multi.
Pepe to strike again?
Nicolas Pepe was using this competition to boost his chances of getting minutes in the Premier League, until his faux pas at Elland Road. Surprisingly, he is priced at a hefty 8/5 to score at any time, a great price when you bear in mind that he has found the net in his last three Europa League appearances.