Europa League Match Day 3 Preview — Sporting CP (2-0-0, 6, +3) vs. Arsenal (2-0-0, 6, +5)

In the span of less than three months, Arsenal have gone for having near zero expectations under new manager Unai Emery to the new boss pleading to supporters not to get carried away after arguably their most impressive victory of the season that also extended the Gunners’ run to 10 on the trot.

Such is the fickle nature in north London as Arsenal face Portuguese side Sporting CP on Thursday in a top of the table clash in Group E of the Europa League.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Arsenal are fourth in the table on 21 points, bookended by London rivals Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur while lurking two points behind reigning champions Manchester City and Liverpool. The Gunners have scored 22 goals in league play, second only to City (26), and that has carried over to Europa League action, where they have bagged seven more in their two wins to lead Group E on goal difference.

The 10-match winning streak in all competitions is Arsenal’s longest such run since reeling off 11 victories on the bounce from Jan. 10-March 30, 2004, part of the dominant run of the “Invincibles” who were the last team to navigate an entire Premier League season undefeated.

Arsenal’s 3-1 victory over Leicester City on Monday evoked memories of that famous side, with slick passing and a flowing offence that shook off a sluggish first half-hour to put on a master class of football in the final 60 minutes. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had a brace for the second straight match while Mesut Ozil had a goal and set up Aubameyang’s second goal on 66 minutes.

“I don’t have to tell you he’s a good player, he has shown that for the past years,” defender Shkodran Mustafi told Arsenal’s official website of Ozil, “and when you give him the opportunity to  play in his favourite position just behind the striker he is capable of doing anything and I think he showed he can assist, score goals and make us look very dangerous going forward.”

Ozil’s play was what Gunners supporters have been longing for from the former Germany international, whose inconsistencies at times have been maddening to watch and arguably contributed to Arsenal slipping to second-tier status in recent years. But while the wins are piling up, Emery has warned against thinking Arsenal are now title contenders.

“It was very important for us to beat Leicester because they’re not far behind us. Now we’ve created a lot of distance with the teams behind us,” the gaffer said. “Now in front we are looking at teams like Liverpool, like Manchester City, like Chelsea, but it’s not important to think about the end. We need to think about the next match against Crystal Palace on Sunday and I also think the Europa League is very important on Thursday.”

To that end, Emery looks like he will not mess too much with a good thing, most notably leaving the red-hot Aubameyang in his first XI. He has five goals and an assist in his last four matches, and the four goals in the last two contests have come in a span of 89 minutes.

While keeper Petr Cech has been cleared to play, he did not accompany the team on this trip as Bernd Leno will again be between the sticks. That, however, may change for Arsenal’s league match against Palace since Cech had been the No. 1 in Premier League play.

There is also the chance of a Uruguay reunion on the field as Arsenal midfielder Lucas Torreira and Sporting defender Sebastian Coates could meet. Both were instrumental in helping La Celeste reach the quarterfinals in the World Cup this summer in Russia, where they lost to eventual champions France. Torreira’s dogged play in the midfield in front of Uruguay’s back four was a key factor in Arsenal signing the 22-year-old.

Sporting have claimed the maximum six points in their group matches with a 2-0 home victory over Qarabag and a 2-1 triumph at Vorskla in their most recent Europa League encounter earlier this month. The Portuguese side are fifth domestically on 13 points, four back of Benfica and Braga, and are still rebuilding to a degree after supporters attacked players and staff at the end of last season for failing to qualify for the Champions League.

That led many players — most notably goalkeeper and Portugal No. 1 Rui Patricio — to cancel their contracts with the club and seek work elsewhere. While they have yet to face Arsenal in league play, Patricio has caught the attention of the Premier League in helping promoted Wolverhampton reach the top half of the table thus far.

The Verde e Brancos have lost two of their last three league matches and are coming off a 4-2 defeat at Portimonense last Saturday, shipping four goals in a domestic match or the first time since a 4-1 cup defeat to Benfica in 2010. Sporting twice pulled within one goal in the second half, first through Fredy Montero and again through Coates on 88 minutes, but a stoppage-time marker by Portimonense put the contest out of reach.

Sporting have missed Patricio to a degree, recording three clean sheets in their 10 overall matches while conceding 10 goals. Patricio had 20 shutouts in 48 matches across all competitions in 2017-18.

Montero, one-time Manchester United winger Nani and Jovane Cabral share the team lead in scoring with three goals, and Cabral has bagged two of his coming off the bench in just 24 minutes of Europa League action. Bruno Fernandes has yet to show the scintillating form that led to 15 goals and 14 assists in all competitions last season, but he does have two goals and two assists in Sporting’s nine matches.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Arsenal are clear favourites to return to London with three points and the Group E lead as they have 19/20 odds to post a victory. The odds of the teams remaining level on points through a draw are 5/2, while Sporting have 11/4 odds to pull off a surprise and take the group lead for a fortnight before the return encounter at the Emirates.

The Gunners have 2/1 odds to win this match with more than 2.5 goals and 15/4 odds to be victorious via 0-1 or 0-2 scoreline. That is slightly longer than a low-scoring draw (7/2), and Sporting odds to claim all three points in a match of three goals (5/1) is slightly better than two or fewer (7/1).

There is no lack of options for first goal-scorers among Arsenal players as Welbeck, Lacazette and Aubameyang all share joint honours at 4/1. Gunners teenage striker Eddie Nketiah is just behind his more seasoned teammates at 5/1, and Mkhitaryan rounds out the top five to give the Londoners a 0-1 lead at 11/2. Bas Dost is the top choice for the hosts at 6/1 to open the scoring, while Abdoulaye Diaby and Fredy Montero are right behind him at 13/2.

Lacazette and Aubameyang have some separation from Welbeck for scoring at any point during the 90 minutes, sharing top billing at 7/5 compared to Welbeck’s 6/4 odds. Nketiah lurks slightly further back at 7/4, and Mkhitaryan again completes the top five options with 2/1 odds on an anytime goal. Aaron Ramsey and fellow Arsenal teenager Emile Smith-Rowe offer 21/10 odds on a goal, and Bost again leads the pack of Sporting options at 11/5.

PREDICTION

While it’s not the “rainy Tuesday night in Stoke” test, this match does represent a step up in class of competition for Arsenal, who it can be argued were favourites to win all 10 of their matches during this winning streak.

Still, the groundswell of support the Gunners are enjoying during the honeymoon period under Emery is a welcome change to the clashing factions under predecessor Arsene Wenger. With each victory in each passing week, the distance grows between the culture of Arsenal’s past under the Frenchman and the one Emery is creating like a meticulous mason building a foundation.

Ozil’s sprinkle of magic dust, however, is what could lift Arsenal to that next level. It may not be title-contention worthy as there is still a noticeable gulf in class between the Gunners and both Manchester City and Liverpool, and Chelsea to a lesser extent, but a top-four finish is definitely there for the taking.

They were irresistible in that hour against the Foxes, but it was the fact it was only an hour still gives pause to Arsenal being a juggernaut. Leicester took a deserved lead in that first 30 minutes, and arguably could have grabbed a second before Arsenal swung the match.

Sporting have the attacking depth to give Arsenal’s back line a severe test, especially through the middle with Fernandes and Montero, along with Nani on the right. Nani had two goals and an assist in eight career matches versus Arsenal, but more importantly, his teams were 6-1-1 in those contests.

This is a contest where Sporting can begin to re-establish the club’s identity following the disastrous spring occurrences, and a draw between the sides to set up a return engagement in London in a fortnight for the top of the group seems like the most likely outcome.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Sporting CP 1, Arsenal 1.

OTHER EUROPA LEAGUE MATCH DAY 3 PREVIEWS:

Chelsea (2-0-0) vs. BATE (1-0-1)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 9 — Arsenal (6-0-2) vs. Leicester City (4-0-4)

Arsenal look to keep pace near the top of the Premier League table Monday when they wrap up Match Day 9 at the Emirates against Leicester City looking for a 10th consecutive victory in all competitions.

The Gunners (6-0-2) need a victory to stay within two points of front-runners and reigning champions Manchester City, and claiming three points in this match would ensure they would be no lower than fourth in the table and ahead of north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur on goal difference.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Arsenal have not reeled off 10 straight wins since Aug. 25-Oct. 23, 2007, ending the season in third place just four points behind champions Manchester United. Despite the run of victories, there is merely quiet confidence and low-key pragmatism with the London side as they continue to take to first-year manager Unai Emery.

“We need to be realistic, Rome wasn’t built in a day,” defender Hector Bellerin told Arsenal’s official website. “There’s loads of things that are changing for us, not just as a team but as a football club so the most important thing is to believe in the way that we want to play. We’re a team now that play from the back, we probably risk it a bit more than before, but for us it is important for our fans and for everyone around us to believe in this idea that we have.

“At the beginning it is going to be harder, but the more we train it, the more we work at it, the better we are going to get at it. For us it is about getting used to the system, be a team, be competitive and have this winning mentality, take it to the next level and become the team that the manager has in mind.”

Emery has a relatively healthy squad, but he will need to make choices at centre back and keeper for his starting XI. Sokratis returned from Greece with an ankle injury suffered in their 2-0 loss to Finland in a friendly, which means Rob Holding could be in partnership with Shkodran Mustafi in central defence.

Between the sticks, Petr Cech is nearing a return to full fitness after being sidelined the last two matches with a hamstring injury. Summer signing Bernd Leno allowed one goal in three halves of action in league play and has backstopped Arsenal to three wins in Europa League and Carabao Cup play.

Mesut Ozil is expected to be available after missing the 5-1 victory over Fulham before the international break due to back spasms, and the hamstring injury that prevented Danny Welbeck from joining England has cleared. While healthy, midfielder Aaron Ramsey is likely to come off the bench as his future – his contract expires at season’s end – continues to be a subject being put off.

“My focus is on every match. The football, the future is tomorrow,” Emery said when asked about having Ramsey beyond this season. “My reason, I explain to every player and to you also, I want the mentality for the next match. Individual things are not for me to speak about now.”

Leicester City (4-0-4) have yet to deal with prosperity when presented to them, staggering into the break on a 2-1 home loss to Everton as Wes Morgan was given his marching orders after a his second booking in the 63rd minute. Since it was his second red card of the young season, the Jamaica international will miss this match and the Foxes’ contest at home versus West Ham next Saturday.

Jonny Evans will again step into the breach in central defence to pair with Harry Maguire. He along with James Maddison were with England during the international break, with the midfielder all smiles after his maiden call-up to the Three Lions.

“It’s been brilliant since I signed a few months ago, I’ve settled in so quickly and I feel at home here,” the 21-year-old told LCFC.com. “There’s so much competition for places here, it’s the Premier League, we’ve got such a talented squad. We’ve got so many good players in that dressing room.

“Hopefully I can keep my form high and my performances good and we can carry it out for the rest of the season.”

Maddison has three goals and two assists in all competitions for Leicester as he, Maguire, Jamie Vardy and Kelechi Iheanacho have accounted for 10 of Leicester’s 18 overall goals. Vardy in particular has been a nuisance to Arsenal, scoring six goals in the last six meetings between the sides and recording a brace in the most recent visit to the Emirates – a wild 4-3 Arsenal victory to open the 2017-18 league season in which the hosts rallied with two goals in the final seven minutes.

Leicester City ended a marathon 22-match winless streak (0-7-15) to Arsenal in the most recent meeting, a 3-1 victory at King Power Stadium as Vardy’s penalty on 76 minutes snapped a tie after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s goal in the 53rd minute canceled out a first-half tally by Iheanacho.

The Foxes have never won at Arsenal in the Premier League era, taking just two draws in 13 matches and losing 11 on the trot in league play at Highbury and the Emirates after a 1-1 draw in 1995. Leicester City are winless in 25 matches (0-6-19) at Arsenal since a 2-0 victory in Division One in 1973.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Arsenal are prohibitive 8/15 favourites to make it a “perfect 10” with another victory, while the odds of Leicester City getting the rare point in north London are 10/3. The longshot, naturally, is the Foxes returning to the Midlands with three points from this trip for the first time in 45 years at 9/2.

Oddsmakers are expecting goals, with a Gunners win and more than 2.5 goals returning 21/20 odds. A low-scoring Arsenal win checks in at 4/1, with a 0-0 or 1-1 draw behind that offering at 11/2. For those who fancy the Foxes, there are 7/1 odds on a win with more than 2.5 goals and 14/1 for a 0-1 or 0-2 scoreline.

Aubameyang and Alexander Lacazette lead the line for first goal-scorers at 7/2 odds, followed by Welbeck (4/1) and then Ramsey and Henrikh Mkhitaryan (6/1). Ever persistent, Vardy leads the options among Leicester City at 6/1 as well, while Maddison lurks further back at 10/1 after Ozil (15/2) and Alex Iwobi (17/2).

Aubameyang and Lacazette are even money to score during the match, with Welbeck a close third at 23/20. Mkhitaryan is a surprising fourth option at 7/4, narrowly ahead of Vardy (9/5). For those who think the Foxes could nick a goal off a corner kick, Maguire offers a decent return at 15/2 odds.

PREDICTION

If this game was being played in the Midlands, an argument can be made the Foxes have the personnel to take this game to Arsenal. But with the hoodoo the Gunners have over Leicester City in London, coupled with their current form — even with the international break — it’s a far tougher sell.

Arsenal are starting to coalesce into a team who are grater than the sum of their parts. In that regard, Emery has done a fantastic job getting players to buy in, which has accelerated the timetable of their in-season success. Of course, they are also in a patch of schedule where they are not playing the cream of the Premier League, but each victory is another building block to be examined and learned from.

The Gunners are the side Leicester City can achieve to be and record a top-half finish. They have talent sprinkled throughout their attack in the precocious Maddison, the relentless Vardy and a pair of interesting assets on the wing in Iheanacho and Ricardo Pereira, whom manager Claude Puel keeps shuttling back and forth on the right with Daniel Amartey.

Keeper Kasper Schmeichel gives them a chance to steal a victory, though that task is somewhat tougher this time around without Morgan, even with a capable replacement in the well-respected veteran Evans. The international break may gave the Foxes the chance to run with Arsenal early, but if the Gunners go through their gears quickly in their return, another victory should be in the offering.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: ARSENAL 3, Leicester City 1.

OTHER MATCH DAY 9 PREVIEWS:

Chelsea (6-2-0) vs. Manchester United (4-1-3)
Manchester City (6-2-0) vs. Burnley (2-2-4)
West Ham United (2-1-5) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (6-0-2)
Wolverhampton (4-3-1) vs. Watford (4-1-3)

Europa League Match Day 2 Preview: FK Qarabag (0-0-1, -2, 0-2) vs. Arsenal (1-0-0, +2, 4-2)

It will be the longest trip for a match in Arsenal history, but it will not be without some intrigue Thursday when Arsenal look to maintain their status atop Group E of the Europa League in Azerbaijan against Qarabag.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The Gunners have made the 4,000-kilometre trek to Baku with a few notable omissions from their squad. Keeper Bernd Leno is expected to start in this match, but he is also currently the uncontested No. 1 since Petr Cech is sidelined at least a month due to a hamstring injury.

Arsenal manager Unai Emery has left three of his regular attacking starters behind in London as Aaron Ramsey, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan are all absent. In the case of Ramsey, his wife is expected to give birth to twins any day, while Aubameyang has been battling an illness and hopes to be available for Sunday’s league match against Fulham.

Mkhitaryan’s absence, however, is a personal issue due to his Armenian heritage. Armenia and Azerbaijan have been involved in a dispute regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh region over the past 30 years. Both manager and player agreed it would be better for the winger to not make the trip and did not apply for a visa to Baku, which is also the site of the Europa League final in May.

“My work is football. I respect each person, I respect each people, I respect each culture, I respect each country,” Emery said at his Wednesday news conference. “But I don’t know each situation in every country. For me, he cannot play tomorrow. There is respect for Micki and respect for you. Today we are here with the opportunity to play well.

“He cannot travel here. We are here, the players with the best mentality and preparation and possibility to play tomorrow.”

This is not the first time Mkhitaryan has not traveled to Azerbaijan for a match, also sitting out a Europa League game in 2015 with Borussia Dortmund when they played Gabala due to security concerns.

Qarabag manager Gurban Gurbanov could not resist the urge to take a jab at the player and the London club during his news conference, stating “If Henrikh Mkhitaryan would come to Azerbaijan it is not the first time, until now a lot of Armenian sportsmen came to Azerbaijan but it is the choice of Arsenal that they didn’t send [him].

“Arsenal may be afraid that in front of 60,000 Azerbaijani fans, Mkhitaryan has some pressure and that is why they didn’t send Mkhitaryan.”

The Gunners, though, enter this contest in fine form and looking for their eighth consecutive victory on the bounce after starting the season with back-to-back defeats. Arsenal have not won eight in a row since a run of nine consecutive triumphs from March 1-April 18, 2015, in which they were eliminated from the Champions League on away goals and picked up a pair of FA Cup victories en route to lifting that trophy.

Emery does not lack for options to replace his attacking trio as Danny Welbeck will likely find his way into the starting XI and perhaps lead the line. Welbeck had a brace in Arsenal’s Carabao Cup win last week and also scored in their 4-2 victory over Vorskla to open their Europa League campaign. In Mkhitaryan’s place on the wing is expected to be Alex Iwobi, who had an assist in the win over Vorskla and has appeared in some capacity over Arsenal’s last four matches in all competitions.

“This season I’ve been working a lot more on trying to improve my finishing and also assisting my team-mates which is what I believe someone in my position should do to get to the next level,” Iwobi told the team’s official website. “I’ve been focusing on that and also in training I feel like my team-mates have been giving me the freedom to express myself, as well as the new boss. There’s no pressure or weight on my shoulders. I’m just enjoying my football.”

Sokratis could return to the back four for this contest after missing the last two matches due to a knock suffered in the win over Everton. Arsenal have recorded clean sheets in back-to-back league matches and have trailed for just five of a possible 630 minutes during their seven-match run.

Qarabag are second in the Azerbaijan Premier League, trailing Neftchi PFK on goal difference and are unbeaten in league play with five victories and a draw in their first six matches. The Atlilar have won three on the trot since opening Group E play with a 2-0 defeat at Portuguese side Sporting Lisbon and are coming off a 2-0 victory at Morning on Saturday.

Michel’s header in the 82nd minute snapped a scoreless deadlock before Innocent Emeghara secured the victory on 89 minutes with an insurance goal. Qarabag have worn down opponents domestically, scoring six of their nine goals after the hour mark in their three victories.

Emeghara has scored a team-leading four goals for the Horsemen, while Mahir Madatov, Abdellah Zoubir, and Filip Ozobic have contributed two apiece. While most of the names on Qarabag are unfamiliar, keeper and Iceland international Hannes Halldorsson is not expected to play as he has fallen behind Vagner in the pecking order.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Arsenal are heavily tipped to extend their win streak as they enter the match 4/9 favourites. The hosts are 6/1 longshots to crack the win column while a draw returns 16/5 odds.

After six goals in their opening match, Arsenal are again expected to pour it on in this contest and have 13/10 odds to win with more than 2.5 goals scored in the contest. The Gunners also have 5/2 odds to record a 1-0 or 2-0 victory, while a draw with less than 2.5 goals returns 21/5 odds. For those who fancy the underdog, a Qarabag win of any nature is listed at 12/1.

With Aubameyang home in London, Alexander Lacazette leads the line for first goal-scorers at 10/3, with Welbeck close behind at 4/1. There are some potential big payouts as Mesut Ozil (7/1) and Iwobi (15/2) offer impressive returns to make it 1-0 to the Arsenal. Those do pale in comparison to Emeghara, who is Qarabag’s top option at 17/2.

Lacazette has 11/10 odds to score over the course of 90 minutes, and Welbeck lurks right behind at 11/8. Ozil checks in at 12/5, narrowly ahead of Iwobi (5/2), and Emeghara again leads the way for the Horseman at 14/5, followed by Madatov (10/3).

PREDICTION

The drama surrounding Mkhitaryan aside, it has become clear Emery is taking the Europa League seriously and trying to rotate his players to keep them fresh for Premier League play. He brought 21 senior players to Azerbaijan, showing respect to Qarabag along with the full expectations the Gunners will return to London with three points.

Emery could tweak the formation some without Aubameyang, Ramsey and Mkhitaryan, but at the same time, the Armenia international’s absence gives him the flexibility to keep his preferred 4-2-3-1 and put Welbeck out wide. Sead Kolasinic is expected to get his first start of the season at left back for Nacho Monreal, and Sokratis’ return gives Shkodran Mustafi a rest.

This should be a straightforward effort for the Gunners, who should be able to run and hide early in this contest and strengthen their chances of reaching the knockout round before facing the other quality side in Group E in Sporting Lisbon.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Qarabag 0, ARSENAL 3.

OTHER EUROPA LEAGUE MATCH DAY 2 PREVIEWS:

Chelsea (1-0-0) vs. MOL Vidi FC (0-0-1)

Europa League Match Day 1 Preview — Arsenal vs. Vorskla Poltava

Bernd Leno’s wait is over as the keeper has been tabbed to make his Arsenal debut Thursday when the Gunners begin their Europa League campaign at home versus Ukrainian side Vorskla Poltava at the Emirates.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Leno, a £19 million transfer from Bayer Leverkusen, was brought in as part of the new regime under Unai Emery in which Arsenal were going to start playing the ball out of the back as part of their renaissance and eventual return to elite football.

The 26-year-old Leno was unable to supplant incumbent and veteran Petr Cech, however, and has watched Arsenal overcome their slow start from the bench. Emery has not committed to Leno as the team’s cup keeper as the three-time winner of Europe’s second-tier tournament is keeping all of his options open as he continues to gauge his personnel.

“He’s here because he’s shown us his quality,” Emery said at his Wednesday news conference about Leno. “The quality for the goalkeeper for me is complex, but he has it. Tomorrow he is going to start and he can go a long way here at Arsenal. He’s young.

I spoke with him on the day of my first match about my decision, I give him my argument for the decision and [seeing] his performance in training  every day,  the best for him and for us is when he starts to play, to play with this performance. I am very happy with him.”

On the surface, it appears Emery will be starting a largely first-choice lineup. Stephan Lichtsteiner is expcted to get the start at right back, while fellow summer signing Lucas Torreira will pair with teen Matteo Guendouzi as the holding midfielders in Arsenal’s 4-2-3-1 set-up. Denny Welbeck is likely to start on the left flank in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s spot while lead striker Alexander Lacazette is expected to maintain his spot up front.

Coming from Juventus, where the Switzerland international was a regular as the Italian side often ventured deep into the Champions League, competing for playing time with Hector Bellerin and playing Thursday nights has been an adjustment for Lichtsteiner, whose lone action with Arsenal was a 55-minute runout against Manchester City in the season opener.

“I’m not frustrated but of course I’m not used to being on the bench more than three times in a row,” the 34-year-old said. “It’s also a new situation for me and I’m curious how I’ll manage it. I’m here to work, to get better personally, to get better with the team and I think we are in a very good way. I’m trying to start more and for that I have to work, that’s the only thing I can do in this moment to show the coach that I’m ready to play. We are in a good way, I’m in a very good way and ready to play.”

This is the second straight season Arsenal are toiling on Thursday nights, with Arsene Wenger’s final run to get back to the Champions League ending in a two-legged 2-1 loss on aggregate to Atletico Madrid in the semifinals.

Vorskla qualified directly for the Europa League group stage by finishing third in the Ukrainian Premier League last season behind perennial powers Shakhtar Donetsk and Dynamo Kyiv. The Green-Whites endured a slow start with three losses in their first four contests but have won three of their last four to climb to fifth place in the table.

Vasyl Sachko’s team is coming off a 1-0 victory at Karpaty Lyiv on Saturday in a foul-tempered match in which six yellow cards were issued. Defender Ardin Dallku was the unlikely offensive hero, scoring in second-half stoppage time to secure the three points and Sachko’s 60th career victory.

“We will fly to London in a good mood,” Sachko told BeSoccer. “We understand that we will have to wait in England. We have earned a place in European competition on sporting principle.

“We are not favourites in this group. The frontrunners are Arsenal and Sporting, while Qarabag are an experienced team. It will be very difficult. We will be dark horses, but we will try to win.”

The Green-Whites will be without three regulars for this match as Yuri Kolomets, Volodymyr Odaryuk, and Denis Vasin all did not make the trip due to injuries.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Arsenal are overwhelming favourites at 1/9 odds to take all three points, with Poltava 33/1 longshots to pull off the shock scoreline. The odds of the teams splitting the points are 8/1.

The Gunners are also better than even money odds to win with more than 2.5 goals in the match at 1/2, with Arsenal victories by either a 1-0 or 2-0 scoreline a distant second at 14/5. Oddsmakers are barely considering a draw as an outcome, as a 0-0 or 1-1 scoreline would return 10/1 odds while a 2-2 draw or higher is 33/1.

A 2-0 or 3-0 Arsenal scoreline are joint-favourites at 5/1, with a fourth goal to the hosts without reply would offer a 7/1 return.

Though he is not expected to be among the starters, Aubameyang is the favourite for first-goal honours at 23/10, closely trailed by Lacazette (14/5) and Welbeck (16/5). Mkhitaryan and Aaron Ramsey check in as 9/2 options to make it 1-0 for the Gunners.

Oddsmakers appear to be expecting at least three goals considering Aubameyang (8/15), Lacazette (8/11) and Welbeck (5/6) are all better than even money to score over the course of 90 minutes.

PREDICTION

Much like Chelsea, this match is where supporters can begin to sense a direction and philosophy of Emery, who will begin making his squad rotations for this match. On the surface, he appears to have enlisted more than enough firepower for this contest by holding back only Aubameyang and Ozil, but it is always better to have too much than too little in a group opener.

The spotlight, though, will fall on Leno as he makes his Gunners debut. The only question is whether he will see enough of the ball against what appears to be an overmatched Vorskla side to make an assessment of the qualities that prompted Arsenal to pay Leverkusen nearly £20 million. The selling point was his ability to play the ball to start the cycle of possession — something Cech has been gamely attempting to learn — so something to watch for Arsenal will be a tempo through the middle third on those occasions Leno starts the build out from the back.

With three wins on the trot, Arsenal have shown expected strength in attack and frailty in the back. This is a good match for them to begin the cohesive process of being a team, which means top-shelf performances from both Torreira and Guendouzi would be a welcome start into a busy three-match stretch in the next seven days.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: ARSENAL 4, Vorskla 0.

OTHER EUROPA LEAGUE MATCH DAY 1 PREVIEWS:

PAOK vs. Chelsea

2018-19 EPL Match Day 1 Preview — Arsenal (0-0-0) vs. Manchester City (0-0-0)

(Writer’s Note: This preview can be seen in a text-only format at STATS Hosted Solutions site. I am adding edits, projected starting lineups, odds-related picks and a final score prediction for the match in this blog.)

Wenger is out, but can Emery fit in?

For the first time in 23 seasons, Arsenal will have a new manager on the touchline as Unai Emery could not have picked a more difficult opponent to make a Premier League debut against than Pep Guardiola and Manchester City as the reigning champions come to the Emirates on Sunday.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The divide that roiled a fan base finally reached an anticlimactic conclusion last season as the Frenchman bid au revoir to the north London side. While Wenger won a record seven FA Cups with the Gunners (19-6-13 in 2017-18), the gradual slide that had seen them fall out of Champions League play for a second straight year and lack serious title challenges for most of the decade finally wore out supporters and the Arsenal board.

“Le Professeur” enjoyed a gracious long good-bye after a sixth-place finish – his worst in his lengthy tenure at Arsenal – and a semifinal exit in the Europa League.

Given the lack of big names in the coaching market – Tito Villanova reportedly priced himself out of a potential hiring while ex-Arsenal players-turned coaches Mikael Arteta and Patrick Vieira were considered too green – Emery seems a vanilla hire who does not address the lofty ambitions of a club who last won a title with “The Invincibles” in 2004.

Emery won three consecutive Europa League titles at Sevilla from 2014-16, but his two seasons at Paris-Saint Germain were nothing spectacular. He won the treble last season as Ligue 1 winner, but PSG were eliminated in the round of 16 in both of his Champions League campaigns – a place that does not sit well with the Arsenal fan base considering Wenger made his exit in that round in his last seven appearances.

“We need to work together and the first way to do that is by finding the performance,” Emery told supporters in his first meeting with them per The Times. “I want a team with energy and I want players to give their all on the pitch.

“I want to give them the habits that I want to see from them in each match. I want to see them demonstrate these habits in every game and give their all. … It’s not better, it’s not worse, it’s just a different moment for this club.”

Emery does not lack for talent and has one of the best attacks in the Premier League in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexander Lacazette, Mesut Ozil, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Aaron Ramsey. It will be Aubameyang’s first full season at the Emirates after coming over from Borussia Dortmund in the January window and making a huge impact with 10 goals in 13 league matches. Ramsey, though, could give way to teenager Matteo Guendozui due to a knock.

Ozil, who spent last season and summer as a lightning rod of all criticisms leveled at the club and country level following Germany’s flameout in group play at the World Cup this summer, retired from international play after a falling out with the DFB amid cries of racism regarding his Turkish heritage and is intent on taking out a lost summer on Premier League opponents.

The defence – a sore spot all of last season as Wenger vacillated between three and four-man backlines – appears set to be four under Emery, who likely will use a 4-3-3 for this match after experimenting with a 4-4-2 in preseason. Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis Papastathopoulous will pair in central defence, though Ainsley Maitland-Niles could be the weak link in this match at left back since Nacho Monreal is out through injury.

Newcomer and Uruguay international Lucas Torreira will anchor the midfield with Ramsey while Ozil is likely to push forward in attack with the front three. There is also likely to be a new goalkeeper as summer signing Bernd Leno has seen extensive action in the preseason over incumbent Petr Cech.

While Arsenal have had a summer of upheaval, Manchester City (32-4-2) have quietly gone about their business preparing their bid to be the first team to repeat as champions since Manchester United won three straight Premier League titles from 2007-09.

The Citizens are better than even-money favourites to repeat after coasting to the title by 19 points over eternal rivals United. They demolished almost every single-season record in the 26-year history of the Premier League – most notably being the first 100-point top-flight team in English football history – but the anger of a Champions League quarterfinal elimination by Liverpool is all the motivation Guardiola needs.

“The best way is to think ‘What’s next,'” Guardiola told City’s official website. “Focus on what we have done in our job, the desire to improve. We are still hungry and we hold them to be better and better players. It’s not easy (to repeat) but we’re going to try. It’s unrealistic to think about it early, the best way to do it is game-by-game.”

City had 16 players at the World Cup, the most of any Premier League team, and they are at various stages of match-fit. One of those players, Sergio Aguero, is in form after bagging a brace in their 2-0 victory over Chelsea in the Community Shield last Sunday at Wembley.

One player who did not go to Russia and could factor large in this match is Riyad Mahrez. He was the lone summer signing for City, who finally pried the Algeria international from Leicester City for £60 million after a January deal fell through. He further adds to a staggering wealth of talent in attack that includes Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, David Silva, Leroy Sane, and Gabriel Jesus.

“He’s ready,” Guardiola said after observing Mahrez throughout City’s preseason tour. “I think he understands what we’re looking for, he played completely differently at Leicester. We have to give it time.”

Guardiola could use a 4-1-4-1 formation for this game as left back Benjamin Mendy returns after missing nearly all of last season with a knee injury. John Stones, who was one of England’s best players at the World Cup, is expected to pair with Aymeric Laporte in central defence in front of Ederson.

Aguero would be the lone striker up front, with De Bruyne and Silva the central midfielders while Sane and Mahrez man the flanks. Fernandinho would clean up in front of the back four as the defensive midfielder.

City won all three matches between the teams, with a 3-0 hiding in the Carabao Cup final in late February bookending their league victories. The twin 3-0 thrashings four days apart galvanised Arsenal’s board in moving Wenger to the exit, as the second defeat was in front of wide patches of empty seats at the Emirates.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Manchester City are solid 17/20 favorites to win while Arsenal and a draw return 14/5 odds. City get a better return on investment with 21/10 odds on a win with both teams scoring a goal, and for the real daring, there are 3/1 odds for a Citizens win coupled with the over of 3.5 goals.

Aguero leads the way for first-choice goal-scorers at 10/3 odds, followed by Jesus (4/1) and Aubameyang (5/1). Sane, Sterling and Mahrez all lurk just behind the Arsenal striker at 11/2. Aguero’s brace in the Community Shield also make him an even-money bet to score during the match.

PREDICTION

It has been mainly optimistic in north London in terms of Arsenal’s preseason results. The Gunners ruthlessly walloped Emery’s old team PSG around draws against Atletico Madrid and Chelsea, splitting results via penalties.

But now comes the real test, one that Emery probably would not have minded being pushed back until after the first international break to better get a sense of his team. Even an A/B mix of City players severely outclassed Chelsea in the Community Shield, and as this team likely will range closer to “A” than “B,” it could be another long night for the Gunners at the Emirates.

What will be curious to see about City is to examine “how” they will be better than last season. It may not take the form of losing only two matches in league play as they likely will finish with fewer than 100 points. Guardiola has talked little about Champions League and the motivation of crashing out to Liverpool in the quarterfinals compared to chasing history, and that choice to look forward will serve this team well.

In the end, there is likely just too much class for Arsenal to overcome this soon in the season, though they should give City some moments of bother in the final third.

PREDICTION: MANCHESTER CITY 3, ARSENAL 1