MX23RW : Tuesday, May 21 08:30:33| >> :600:14842238:14842238:
Nov 29, 2018 at 5.55pm UK at ​Stadion Vorskla im. Oleksiya Butov'skogo (Poltava)
VorsklaVorskla Poltava
FT(HT: 0-3)
Smith Rowe (11'), Ramsey (27' pen.), Willock (41')

Preview: Vorskla Poltava vs. Arsenal - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews Thursday's Europa League Group E clash between Vorskla Poltava and Arsenal, including predicted XIs, teams news and head-to-head records.

Arsenal could secure top spot in Group E of the Europa League on Thursday evening when they take on Vorskla Poltava in their penultimate match of the stage.

Much of the pre-match build-up has surrounded the political tensions between Ukraine and Russia, though, which has forced the game to be moved to Kiev at the eleventh hour.

Vorskla Poltava

Vyacheslav Sharpar and Henrikh Mkhitaryan in action during the Europa League group game between Arsenal and Vorskla Poltava on September 20, 2018© Reuters

Vorskla go into this game in the unusual position of having to make a 211-mile trip to appear at home following UEFA's controversial ruling that the match should be played in Kiev.

Areas of Ukraine have been placed under martial law amid escalating tensions with Russia, although Poltava itself is not one of the regions directly affected, leading to criticism over the decision.

Nevertheless, the home side must put those off-field troubles to one side and focus fully on what is a must-win match for them when Arsenal come to town.

Vorskla have won one and lost three of their four group games so far, leaving them third in the standings and knowing that even a victory on Thursday may not be enough to keep them in the contention going into the final day.

Should Sporting Lisbon beat Qarabag in Azerbaijan then Vorskla will be eliminated regardless of their result against Arsenal, although a home win coupled with Sporting failing to pick up all three points would keep their qualification hopes alive.

The odds are heavily stacked against Vasyl Sachko's side, though, and they will go into Thursday's match on a three-match losing streak across all competitions following back-to-back defeats domestically.

Vorskla have failed to even score in that run, which began with a costly 1-0 defeat at home to Qarabag in their most recent Europa League outing.

The Ukrainian outfit have now lost both of their European home games this season and have been beaten five times in their last seven continental fixtures in front of their own fans, with their only victory in that time also proving to be in vain as they lost on aggregate.

Leaving Poltava to play this match in Kiev may actually be a blessing in disguise, then, with Vorskla's only points in this season's competition coming away from home against Qarabag.

Indeed, across all competitions Vorskla have lost five of their last six home games, contributing to them falling eight points adrift of the top three in the Ukrainian Premier League.

Recent Europa League form: LLWL
Recent form (all competitions): WWWLLL


Unai Emery gestures with two fingers during the Europa League group game between Arsenal and Vorskla Poltava on September 20, 2018© Reuters

The late change of venue has caused havoc for the travelling plans of Arsenal's fans and some of the staff, but for the players it may actually make things easier.

The Gunners are now able to fly straight to Kiev rather than the previous plans of flying to Kharkiv and then facing a long bus journey to Poltava.

The conditions inside the stadium are not likely to be any kinder, though; current forecasts have the predicted temperature at around -10°C in Kiev at the time of kickoff, so any fans that do make it to the new destination will hope that matters on the field help to warm their spirits.

Arsenal do go into the match with a certain degree of pressure lifted off their shoulders after their goalless draw with Sporting on matchday four confirmed their place in the last 32 of the competition with two games still to spare.

Top spot is still up for grabs, though, and the Gunners would secure that with a win on Thursday, while even a draw or defeat could suffice so long as Sporting do not register a better result in Azerbaijan.

Winning Group E is nothing more than what was expected of Arsenal, but it is nonetheless another step forward in Unai Emery's quest to get the team challenging for major trophies once again.

The Gunners reached the semi-finals of this competition in Arsene Wenger's final season at the helm, but they were a long way off the pace in the Premier League so for the club to be just one point behind the top four domestically in Emery's debut campaign is certainly a step in the right direction.

Sunday's 2-1 win at Bournemouth saw them close the gap on Chelsea by ending a run of three successive draws, while also extending their unbeaten record to an impressive streak of 17 matches across all competitions.

At was at this stage of last season's Europa League that their unbeaten record in the groups came to an end, though, with Koln inflicting what is one of only two away defeats suffered by Arsenal in their nine such outings in the competition.

Even in such testing conditions, Arsenal will be heavily favoured to avoid a similar upset on Thursday, although Vorskla are the only team to have scored past Emery's side in this season's competition so far, with the Gunners keeping three successive clean sheets since their 4-2 win at the Emirates on matchday one.

Recent Europa League form: WWWD
Recent form (all competitions): DWDDDW

Team News

Laurent Koscielny in action for Arsenal on November 29, 2017© Reuters

Laurent Koscielny could feature in a senior game for the first time since May if he is deemed fit enough to make the squad as he continues his recovery from an Achilles injury.

Stephan Lichtsteiner is also expected to overcome an injury problem to feature, but Emery may be more cautious with the fitness of Alexandre Lacazette, who missed the win over Bournemouth with a groin problem.

The Arsenal boss is expected to make wholesale changes to his side, handing game time to youngsters such as Emile Smith Rowe, Eddie Nketiah and Julio Pleguezuelo.

More experienced players such as Petr Cech and Aaron Ramsey could also be included to help get the job done, but Emery is likely to rest the vast majority of his first-team regulars.

Mesut Ozil is one senior player who could feature, having been dropped against Bournemouth at the weekend due to the opposition being supposedly too demanding for him.

Vorskla, meanwhile, will be without Aleksandre Kobakhidze, Denis Vasin and Dmitry Kravchenko for the visit of Arsenal.

Vorskla possible starting lineup:
Shust; Perduta, Chesnakov, Chizhov, Sakiv; Sapai, Sklyar, Sharpar, Artur; Kulach; Kolomoets

Arsenal possible starting lineup:
Cech; Lichtsteiner, Sokratis, Pleguezuelo, Jenkinson; Elneny, Guendouzi; Smith Rowe, Ramsey, Iwobi; Nketiah

Head To Head

The reverse fixture was the only previous meeting between these two sides, with Arsenal racing into a 4-0 lead before Vorskla hit back with two consolation goals at the Emirates.

The Gunners have now won five and lost four of their 11 meetings with Ukrainian opposition, although all four of those defeats have come in Ukraine.

Indeed, Arsenal have never won in five previous visits to this country, losing twice apiece to Dynamo Kiev and Shakhtar Donetsk and picking up their only point against Dynamo in September 2008.

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We say: Vorskla 0-1 Arsenal

The essentially neutral venue and freezing conditions in Kiev may have an impact on the quality of this game, but Arsenal should still have enough to pick up the win they need to claim top spot.

Who will win Thursday's Europa League clash between Vorskla Poltava and Arsenal?

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Emile Smith-Rowe celebrates his equaliser during the pre-season friendly between Arsenal and Atletico Madrid on July 26, 2018
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