Weblog: The football punter

Back the Gunners to make a flying start

TV: BT Sport 2, 8pm Thursday

Bookmakers have long believed Arsenal's best chance of securing Champions League football is through a top-four finish rather than winning the Europa League, and few hold the competition in higher regard than Unai Emery.

The Gunners are 5-1 to lift the trophy and 10-11 to land a top-four berth. But Emery, a three-time winner of the competition with Sevilla, will be keen for his side to keep their options open.

Arsenal have been a Jekyll-and-Hyde outfit this campaign, swatting aside strong opposition at the Emirates but folding feebly on the road, and establishing a first-leg advantage over Napoli will be paramount to their hopes of progressing.

A routine 2-0 win over Newcastle made it ten wins on the spin at home for the first time since 1998 but Arsenal relinquished their advantage in the race for the top-four with an insipid defeat at Everton on Sunday.

They are the only Premier League outfit yet to keep an away clean sheet this term and, fully aware of the challenge that awaits them in Naples, Emery's side nothing less than a first-leg win will do.

Carlo Ancelotti's men do not need to juggle domestic and European duties with Juventus having all but wrapped up the Serie A title but their recent form is a cause for concern.

With focus specifically on the Europa League, they have sleepwalked into this fixture, losing away to relegation-threatened Empoli and failing to see off ten-man Genoa at the weekend.

They are a swashbuckling attacking unit by nature, with Arkadiusz Milik their focal danger, but they have lapsed defensively of late, failing to keep a clean sheet in each of their last six games.

That run included a 3-1 defeat at 2018 Europa League semi-finalists Red Bull Salzburg and they could struggle to keep Arsenal's front line quiet.

The last time Arsenal played at home and neither Alexandre Lacazette nor Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang were on the scoresheet was late February.

Emery could very well set up with both starting and, having scored first-half goals in each of their last six home fixtures, the Gunners could make a rapid start.


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Match in Focus

15:00 Sa 25May SKY

Newport Co v Tranmere

Home WinDrawAway Win
Key stats
  • Newport are unbeaten in 12 matches.
Expert verdict
Michael Flynn’s Newport headed into the playoffs as the fourth tier’s form side, securing seventh spot by finishing the season ten games unbeaten. Tranmere will know all too well about County’s disciplined defensive, having failed to score in both league meetings with them and, even with James Norwood leading the line, they look vulnerable.