Arsenal welcome CSKA Moscow to the Emirates Stadium on Thursday night for the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final.
With all realistic hopes of a top-four Premier League finish ended, the Gunners need to lift the Europa League this season to seal a return to the Champions League.
Here, FP takes a look at the main talking points ahead of the last-eight clash.
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has said he hopes the ongoing political tension between Russia and the United Kingdom will have no bearing on football matters over the next week. The tie comes against the backdrop of heightened diplomatic tensions between the British government and the Kremlin over the poisoning of Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter with a nerve agent in Salisbury last month. With relations at a low point and calls for England to boycott this summer’s World Cup in Russia still being heard, it remains to be seen if the political issues will bleed over into this sporting affair.
Home or away
Arsenal have seen off Ostersund and AC Milan in the knockout stages to set up this meeting with CSKA. Both of those previous victories came on the back of impressive wins in the away legs, which were held first. This time, Wenger’s men must look to build their lead at home and then take something to Russia next Thursday that they can defend as they aim to make it into the semi-finals.
The task of picking up a positive home result in the opening leg will not be helped if the number of stay-away supporters remains the same. Apathy towards the club’s Premier League performances this campaign have seen some fans avoid home matches, with dwindling attendances in league fixtures and the earlier rounds of the Europa League. Wenger will want the Emirates Stadium to be packed on Thursday, especially as CSKA’s travelling contingent can be expected to make plenty of noise.
Laca new signing
Alexandre Lacazette’s timely return to full fitness is a boost to Arsenal’s chances – especially considering club-record signing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is cup-tied in the Europa League. The France international has been missing with a knee injury which left Danny Welbeck as the only fit senior striker against both Ostersund and Milan. While Welbeck hit a brace to see off the Italians, having Lacazette back – especially after he scored off the bench in his comeback game against Stoke on Sunday – will add an extra dimension to Arsenal’s attacking outlook.
David Ospina has been Arsenal’s nominated Europa League goalkeeper for all-but two of his side’s fixtures in the competition this season. The Colombia international also stepped in for Petr Cech against Stoke, with the usual Premier League number-one absent with a minor groin issue. Cech has now shrugged off the niggle and could be handed the gloves in Europe for the first time since a 1-0 win over Red Star Belgrade in October.
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