Weblog: The football punter

Arsenal can beat Swedes in the snow

Europa League last 32 first leg
BT Sport 3, 6pm Thursday

Arsenal appear to have been frozen out of the race for a top-four finish in the Premier League but the Europa League offers another potential route into next season's Champions League and the Londoners can move closer to the final by beating Ostersunds.

Temperatures of around -4C await the Gunners at the Jamtkraft Arena in Ostersund, a small city 290 miles north of Swedish capital Stockholm.

It might not seem the ideal location for the Gunners to recover from their derby hangover and they cannot call on either of their record signings. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is ineligible and Alexandre Lacazette has undergone minor knee surgery.

However, the gap in class between the teams is sizeable and Arsenal are likely to take a much keener interest in the competition than they did in the group stage.

Outcast Mathieu Debuchy, now with St-Etienne, and youngsters Eddie Nketiah, Joe Willock, Matt Macey, Marcus McGuane, Reiss Nelson and Ben Sheaf were handed appearances during the group stage and the Gunners came through with flying colours, taking 13 points from a possible 18.

After the weekend loss to Tottenham, Arsene Wenger said he would not consider prioritising the Europa League until the semi-finals.

But tough selection choices are not needed because Arsenal are out of the FA Cup and do not return to domestic action until the League Cup final on February 25.

The Frenchman has to use his senior players simply to keep their fitness up and that can only be bad news for Ostersunds in their attempts to register a major shock.

Danny Welbeck is likely to lead the Gunners' attack and should be well serviced by Mesut Ozil and Jack Wilshere, who have been at the heart of some of Arsenal's best performances in recent weeks.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan has a point to prove after his poor performance against Spurs but the Armenian enjoys the European stage and was Manchester United's leading Europa League marksman last season with six goals.

Ostersunds, managed by Englishman Graham Potter, will have their hands full and they might be undercooked in terms of match fitness.

They returned to competitive action after a two-month break with a 3-0 victory at home to Trelleborgs in a Swedish Cup group match last Friday but facing Arsenal will be a huge step up.

However, they are unbeaten in six European home ties this season, scoring twice in four of them, and may be pepped up in attack by the January signing of striker Dino Islamovic.

The Swedes might get themselves on the scoresheet again but it could be little more than a consolation against a vastly superior Arsenal side eager to get their season moving in the right direction again.

Arsenal to win & both teams to score

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Match in Focus

13:30 TODAY

Brighton v Chelsea

Home WinDrawAway Win
Key stats
  • Brighton have scored in eight of their last nine games
Expert verdict
Brighton have carried their formidable home form into the new season, losing just once at the Amex in the league this term. They beat Crystal Palace there most recently and can hold Chelsea, who stunned Manchester City last week but have lost back-to-back away games at Tottenham and Wolves.