Danny Welbeck

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AT THE HALF: Arsenal 0-2 Ostersunds — Gunners on the ropes

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Arsenal were supposed to show up to the Emirates Stadium on Thursday, roll the ball out to midfield, kick it around a bit and, in just about any fathomable set of circumstances, advance to the Europa League round of 16 without breaking much of a sweat.

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Ostersunds FK had a very different idea how the round-of-32 second-leg clash would go, as the Swedish side hit the Gunners for a pair of goal just 70 seconds apart in the first half — the first courtesy of a Calum Chambers own goal, quickly followed by the second from Ken Sema — to pull themselves back to within 3-2 on aggregate.

With 45 minutes still to play, we’re one more Ostersunds goal from extra-time. Arsenal are in desperate need of a goal with only Danny Welbeck and Reiss Nelson as the only attacking changes available off the bench.

Wenger confirms Ospina will start pair while Ozil, Ramsey miss out

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Arsene Wenger confirmed in his pre-match press conference that goalkeeper Petr Cech will get an extended rest with a pair of Cup games on the horizon for Arsenal.

In his place, David Ospina will start both Thursday’s Europa League Round of 32 match against Ostersunds and Sunday’s EFL Cup Final against Manchester City. Ospina is no stranger to this type of rotation, with the Colombian owning just 30 starts over the last three seasons in national and international Cup competitions compared to just seven Premier League appearances.

In addition, Wenger also confirmed that Mesut Ozil will miss out for Thursday’s match due to illness, but is expected back for Sunday’s EFL Cup final. Arsenal has a 3-0 lead over Swedish club Ostersund after the first leg, with the second leg to be played at the Emirates.

Wenger said Aaron Ramsey is back in training, and while he will not be risked in the Europa League match in his return from a groin injury that saw him miss the North London derby loss, he could be in contention to play against Manchester City. “[Ramsey] is not in the squad tomorrow, he had a good training session. We will see how his evolution goes between now and Sunday. I don’t rule him out.”

Ramsey scored a hat-trick in the 5-1 win over Everton in early February, but has played just 181 minutes since picking up a hamstring injury in mid-December.

Finally, Wenger said that Danny Welbeck and Henrikh Mkhitaryan will both receive starting spots against Ostersunds, as will some unnamed youth products. Welbeck has been out of Premier League action since mid-January, stuck behind Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but he received four minutes off the bench in the North London derby and will get another opportunity in the Europa League to prove his worth.

Arsenal’s Alexandre Lacazette ruled out with injury

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Arsenal will have to do without French international striker Alexandre Lacazette for a pivotal stretch of their season.

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Lacazette, 26, has suffered a left knee injury and has undergone surgery which will keep him out for up to six weeks.

The North London club released a statement on Lacazette’s injury.

“Striker Alex Lacazette had an arthroscopy on his left knee in London on Tuesday morning. The minor procedure was a success and he will now undergo a period of rehabilitation. It is envisaged that he will return to the squad within four to six weeks.”

It was expected that Lacazette would play a significant number of minutes in the UEFA Europa League, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang ineligible to play in European competitions following his arrival from Borussia Dortmund in January.

Before Aubameyang arrived for a club-record $79.6 million fee, Lacazette was Arsenal’s record signing with the predatory forward signing from Lyon last summer for $73 million but he has only been used as a sub in each of the Gunners’ last two games. Lacazette had two glorious chances to equalize late on against Spurs in the 1-0 North London Derby defeat on Saturday but was off target with both attempts.

How much will Arsenal miss their fox in the box?

Lacaztte has scored nine goals in 26 PL appearances for Arsenal this season, which is a decent return but a little less than was expected given his record of 100 goals in 171 starts for Lyon in Ligue 1.

Danny Welbeck will be the main man for their Europa League Round of 32 games against Ostersunds, and likely the last 16, if they advance, which is far from ideal. Welbeck has once again struggled with injuries this season and has scored six goals in 25 appearances in all competitions, mostly off the bench.

Aubameyang will ease the burden of losing Lacazette but with Alexis Sanchez joining Manchester United and Theo Walcott leaving for Everton in January, all of a sudden Arsene Wenger‘s forward options are limited.

Arsenal still have options, but not what you need when you’re trying to claw back an eight-point gap to the top four, have a League Cup final against Manchester City and are in the latter stages of the Europe League.

PL preview: Tottenham Hotspur vs. Arsenal

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  • Tottenham 5th in PL, 1 point back of Chelsea
  • Arsenal 6th, 4 points back of Spurs
  • Arsenal won first meeting this season, 2-0

In the Premier League, the paths that clubs take matter very little, for over the course of a 38-game season, they typically end up right where they belong. Long winless skids are evened out by runs of good fortune and fortuitous results, and vice versa.

Take, for example, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, the north London powers who have finished five of the last eight seasons occupying consecutive places(*) in the final Premier League table; they were separated by just one spot in two of the other three(**); last season was the lone exception, when Tottenham finished second and Arsenal finished fifth.

TOT ARS
2009-10* 4th 3rd
2010-11* 5th 4th
2011-12* 4th 3rd
2012-13* 5th 4th
2013-14** 6th 4th
2014-15** 5th 3rd
2015-16* 3rd 2nd
2016-17 2nd 5th

The current season, like so many to precede it, has seen Spurs and Arsenal set out in drastically different directions — Spurs were the side who thrashed their Champions League group, which included Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund, while the Gunners suffered the indignity of the Europa League — but after six and a half months of the PL season, they enter Saturday’s north London derby (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com) with not another soul standing between them.

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There will almost certainly only be room for one of the two — if any — inside the top-four this season. Thus, Saturday’s clash at Wembley Stadium will carry a great deal of added incentive, particularly for Arsenal, who not only hope to overthrow Spurs, and Chelsea and/or Liverpool, for a top-four finish, but also to re-establish their superiority in north London after finishing behind Spurs last season for the first time in 22 years.

Spurs are the side in far better form over the last six games (12 points to 8), though they’ve also endured a more taxing period of fixtures thanks to their ongoing participation in the FA Cup, including a replay against League Two side Newport County on Wednesday, as well as clashes with fellow top-five sides Manchester United and Liverpool. Harry Kane joined the PL’s 100-goal club last weekend against Liverpool, and the two-time defending (soon-to-be three?) Golden Boot winner has 13 goals to his name in his last 10 appearances (all competitions).

INJURIES: Spurs — PROBABLE: Lucas Moura (fitness) | Arsenal — OUT: Santi Cazorla (achilles); QUESTIONABLE: Danny Welbeck (hamstring); DOUBTFUL: Petr Cech (calf)

What they’re saying…

Mauricio Pochettino, on the strength of two sides: “Arsenal will be tough to play, they have good quality, talented players and are one of the best teams in the league. I cannot say if they look stronger or not than they were since their new signings. We are focused on us. I don’t care. They play with 11, we play with 11.”

Arsene Wenger, on the rivalry: “There is always huge passion before the game and the emotion at stake means it becomes a bit more agitated; but this season, if you look at the table, this is a very important game. For us, it is an opportunity to come back closer to the Champions League places, which is a priority.”

Prediction

A frantic pace. Disjointed play. Hard, desperate tackles flying in from all directions. Everything you expect from a frenzied, consequential derby of this caliber. Plus, a Harry Kane goal or two. Spurs 3-2 Arsenal.

Alexis Sanchez in Arsenal squad, could play vs Crystal Palace

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Ahead of his nearly imminent move away from the Emirates, Alexis Sanchez could make an appearance for Arsenal against Crystal Palace this weekend as he was with the squad at the team hotel on Friday night, according to reports in England.

According to the reports, Arsene Wenger has not decided if he will play Sanchez against Palace or not, as any potential injury could seriously jeopardize any outgoing transfer in the works. However, naming him to the bench and allowing Sanchez to make one last appearance in front of the home fans would be a nice touch before he leaves, likely for Manchester United.

It probably doesn’t help Wenger’s selection that oft-injured Danny Welbeck will miss the match after picking up a muscle problem in training.

Sanchez did not travel with the team to Bournemouth last weekend as Arsenal lost 2-1 in stunning fashion. Sanchez has missed four Premier League games this season, and Arsenal has lost three of them.

The reports state Sanchez trained with the Arsenal first team on Friday, but only because the youth team he trained with the day before had left for a road trip.