MX23RW : Tuesday, January 22 23:45:24

Preview: Arsenal vs. Qarabag FK - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole provides team news, predicted lineups and a full preview of Thursday's Europa League clash between Arsenal and Qarabag FK.

Arsenal conclude their Europa League group campaign with a home match against Azerbaijani champions Qarabag FK on Thursday night.

The Gunners wrapped up top spot with a straightforward 3-0 win at Vorskla Poltava two weeks ago and are now looking to keep their momentum going ahead of the busy festive period.


Arsenal

Mesut Ozil celebrates scoring Arsenal's fourth goal against Vorskla Poltava in their Europa League tie on September 20, 2018© Reuters

Unai Emery has the luxury of being able to rotate his squad for this matchday six fixture against already-eliminated Qarabag, having got the job done in Group E with a game to spare.

Goals from Emile Smith Rowe, Aaron Ramsey and Joe Willock gave an experimental Arsenal side a convincing victory in Ukraine last month, setting up what is effectively a dead rubber in North London on Thursday night.

Four wins and a draw leaves the Gunners on 13 points from five matches, equalling their tally from six games last season when going on to reach the semi-finals under Arsene Wenger.

Arsenal have not conceded since their opener against Vorskla here and, even accounting for the goalless home draw with Sporting Lisbon in early November, have scored 11 goals at the other end.

The stalemate with Sporting was not the best advert for a competition that has been kind to three-time winner Emery down the years, though it did at least prove enough to secure a place in the last 32.

That was followed up with a 3-0 win away to Vorskla, ensuring that Sporting can no longer catch them in top spot, as the Portuguese club are three points worse off with an inferior head-to-head record.

Now it is a case of keeping the momentum going, with Arsenal boasting a 21-match unbeaten run in all competitions following their late 1-0 victory over lowly Huddersfield Town at the weekend, secured through another Lucas Torreira strike.

Emery's men remain outside the top four on goal difference and also have a EFL Cup quarter-final with Tottenham Hotspur to look forward to next week, so this midweek match will offer the Spanish boss a chance to give some key men a breather ahead of a gruelling run on the domestic front.

Recent form in Europa League: WWWDW
Recent form (all competitions): DWWWDW


Qarabag FK

Qarabag boss Gurban Gurbanov watches on during a Europa League clash in December 2017© Reuters

Qarabag make the trip to the English capital with little to play for on the face of it, with last month's crushing defeat to Sporting killing off their slim hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages.

The 6-1 thrashing at the hands of the Primeira Liga outfit was Qarabag's heaviest ever European home loss, leaving them on three points from five matches - those coming from a 1-0 win at Vorskla on matchday four.

Despite shaking off Vorskla, however, the Horsemen find themselves rooted to the bottom of Group E as they have an inferior goal difference to the Ukrainian side, who head to Sporting for their final match.

Finishing third is the best Gurban Gurbanov and his side can hope for, then, as yet another European campaign comes to an early end. The five-in-a-row champions of Azerbaijan have still never made it to the knockout phase of a UEFA competition.

Qarabag have competed in either the Europa League or Champions League group stage in each of the last five seasons, but they have taken their eye off the ball domestically this season, finding themselves three points adrift of Neftci Baku in the Azerbaijani Premier League.

That can be explained by a poor run of form in October, which saw them lose four matches in a row in all competitions - including a 2-1 reverse at the hands of Neftci - but they have since returned to form by losing just once since then.

Gurbanov's charges have also racked up high-scoring wins over Kesla and Zira FK since going down 6-1 to Sporting, and the task now will be to pick up a famous - and rare - away win on the continent.

Seven of Qarabag's 10 Europa League group matches away from home have ended in defeat, scoring just three times in the last six of those, but on the flipside they have conceded more than once on just one occasion during that run - again at the hands of Sporting.

Recent form in Europa League: LLLWL
Recent form (all competitions): WWDLWW


Team News

Laurent Koscielny during an Arsenal training session on November 7, 2018© Reuters

Emery may use this dead rubber as a chance to get Laurent Koscielny back up to speed following the Frenchman's return to training on the back of a seven-month injury layoff.

Koscielny may well be needed for the trip to Southampton next weekend as Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis Papastathopoulos are both suspended, while Rob Holding is out injured, so giving the centre-back minutes on Thursday is key.

Mesut Ozil and Ramsey remain doubtful and are unlikely to be risked, meanwhile, but there will be plenty of experience in the Arsenal XI in the form of goalkeeper Petr Cech, who has been relegated to appearances in cup competitions.

A fifth clean sheet in a row for Arsenal would equal the all-time record, currently held jointly by Napoli and Red Bull Salzburg, giving the Gunners' makeshift backline something to aim for.

Qarabag will have to contend without Innocent Emeghara, who is carrying an injury and is unlikely to play again until the New Year.

Araz Abdullayev is the leading candidate to fill in for Emeghara, having already been used from the off in three Europa League matches this campaign.

Elsewhere, Mahir Madatov, Filip Ozobic and Abdellah Zoubir should continue to operate in attacking midfield, just off Abdullayev.

Arsenal possible starting lineup:
Cech; Jenkinson, Sokratis, Koscielny, Maitland-Niles; Elneny, Guendouzi; Willock, Smith Rowe, Iwobi; Nketiah

Qarabag possible starting lineup:
Vagner; Medvedev, Sadiqov, Rzezniczak, Guerrier; Qarayev, Michel; Madatov, Ozobic, Zoubir; Abdullayev


Head To Head

Arsenal's 3-0 win over Qarabag on October 3 marked the first time that they had faced off against Azerbaijani opponents in UEFA competition.

The Horsemen have not fared well against Premier League sides down the years, losing all five of their previous-such encounters.

One goal has been scored in that sequence, coming via the penalty spot in a 3-1 loss away to Arsenal's neighbours Tottenham in September 2015.


Sports Mole Logo

We say: Arsenal 3-0 Qarabag

Arsenal have lost just one of the 10 Europa League matches to have been staged at the Emirates Stadium and are on course to equal a new defensive record in the competition. The Gunners may have little to play for, but that is also true of their opponents, setting up what should be another stress-free evening for Emery's side.


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Who will win Thursday's Europa League meeting between Arsenal and Qarabag FK?

Arsenal
Draw
Qarabag FK
Arsenal
90.3%
Draw
3.2%
Qarabag FK
6.5%
Fulham's Calum Chambers in action in August 2018
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Tables
TeamPWDLFAGDPTS
1Liverpool23193154134160
2Manchester CityMan City23182362174556
3Tottenham HotspurSpurs23170648232551
4Chelsea23145440192147
5Arsenal23135548321644
6Manchester UnitedMan Utd23135546331344
7Watford239683232033
8Wolverhampton WanderersWolves239592731-432
9Leicester CityLeicester2394102929031
10West Ham UnitedWest Ham2394103034-431
11Everton238693433130
12Bournemouth2393113342-930
13Brighton & Hove AlbionBrighton2375112532-726
14Crystal Palace2364132332-922
15Southampton2357112540-1522
16Burnley2364132343-2022
17Newcastle UnitedNewcastle2356121931-1221
18Cardiff CityCardiff2354141944-2519
19Fulham2335152151-3014
20Huddersfield TownHuddersfield2325161340-2711

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