A goalless draw will not be enough. Defeat would be so calamitous it does not bear thinking about.
The success of Arsenal’s season is at stake and Mikel Arteta knows his side must score against Slavia Prague to have any chance of progressing to the Europa League semi-finals.
A dismal 1-1 draw in the first leg raised a number of questions about Arteta’s team selection and the way he set up his side to approach the game.
Once-talismanic forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang started the match on the bench but helped kickstart his side into action and assisted fellow-substitute Nicolas Pepe’s goal in the 86th minute.
Deep into added time, however, the Gunners let their slender lead slip as Tomas Holes scored a vital away goal for the Czech club.
Arsenal bounced back from the draw with a 3-0 victory at Sheffield United on Sunday, during which some players forced their way into contention to start the second leg.
Arteta undoubtedly faces a number of key decisions ahead of the trip to Slavia Prague. Here, Mirror Football takes a look at five of them.
Youth or experience on the left?
Arsenal fans have been eager for Gabriel Martinelli to be handed more opportunities in recent weeks, and the Brazilian made good on a rare start on Sunday.
The 19-year-old was in the right place at the right time to double the Gunners’ lead over the Blades, ending his 15-month wait for a goal.
Even when he has not been scoring, Martinelli is a refreshing force in Arsenal’s attack with his directness and electric speed.
In contrast, Aubameyang has drawn criticism for his attitude this season and, as mentioned, found himself on the bench for the first leg.
Willian was handed a start on the left flank that day but did little to warrant keeping his place for the second leg, meaning it could be a shootout between Aubameyang and Martinelli for a starting role on Thursday.
As it happens, Arteta’s decision may be made for him, with Aubameyang still a doubt for the second leg as he continues to recover from the illness which kept him out at the weekend.
And on the right?
There’s another key conundrum for Arteta on the other flank.
Nicolas Pepe came off the bench to score against Slavia Prague last week and created the chance for Martinelli to score against the Blades.
But it’s becoming increasingly clear that Pepe’s berth on the flank is also Bukayo Saka’s best position, with the 19-year-old providing a steady supply of goals and assists when lining up on the right wing.
To get around this, Arteta named Pepe on the right and Saka in the No.10 role against Sheffield United, and Arsenal were largely impressive on the front foot.
The Gunners boss could choose to do this again for the second leg, although it would likely mean there is no room in the side for Emile Smith Rowe, who has started Arsenal’s last two Europa League fixtures.
Continue with the Xhaka experiment?
Arteta raised eyebrows by playing natural midfielder Granit Xhaka at left-back for the trip to Sheffield United.
The news of Kieran Tierney’s season-ending knee injury has left the Spaniard with a dilemma on the left of the defence, where there is no recognised back-up.
Cedric Soares played there in the first leg, although he is right-footed, while Arteta is clearly loath to lose Saka’s attacking threat by fielding him in the back line.
Xhaka was solid enough at left-back against Sheffield United – though the Premier League stragglers didn’t pose much threat – but Arteta will likely want him back in midfield against Slavia Prague.
The Switzerland international gives Arsenal a good degree of control in the centre of the park which could prove crucial with the quarter-final tie hanging in the balance.
Attack from the off?
Arsenal must strike a fine balance between attacking threat and keeping things solid at the back in the second leg.
Due to Slavia Prague’s away goal, the Gunners must score to progress – and the longer the visitors wait for a goal, the more nerves will start to kick in.
But Arteta cannot risk leaving his side too open against a team who knocked out Rangers and Leicester.
Slavia Prague showed they can be a potent attacking force in the first leg, registering just one fewer shot (10) than Arsenal and four shots on target compared to their hosts’ two.
Who partners Holding?
There’s another team selection dilemma for Arteta at centre-back, where he must choose who partners Rob Holding.
The Englishman – a dependable performer for Arsenal this season – is back in the line-up following David Luiz’s knee injury and has been partnered by Pablo Mari and Gabriel in recent fixtures.
Gabriel was impressive throughout the first half of the season but some cracks have started to appear since he endured a nightmare night against Liverpool at the start of the month.
The Brazilian started the first leg, while fellow left-footer Mari replaced him in the XI for the trip to Sheffield United.
And the fact Arsenal kept a clean sheet at Bramall Lane may tip the balance in Mari’s favour for the second leg.
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