Ostersunds vs Arsenal by Sweem
A cold winter is still hanging heavy in Sweden, and Ostersund will appear in their biggest ever match in their history when they host Arsenal at Jamtkraft Arena. It will be around -10 degrees celcius and dry air - very typical Ostersund weather at this time of the year.
UEFAs freezing limit suggests that any game worse than -15 might not be played. However, it is likely that the game will be played anyway. It takes exteme conditions for it not to happen. However, the fact that this is even mentioned shows that it is challenging conditions for any visiting side in particular.
Arsenal are in the middle of a turbulent season on their part. One day it is darker than ever, and the next day it calms down again. For example, following the loss against Swansea (3-1) on the 30th of January, the Gunners bounced back and beat Everton (5-1) at home. The mood certainly swings. However, in Europa League - Arsenal have been more predictable in terms of their line ups and often rotate.
Regardless of the squad situation at Arsenal, they will be able to field a strong squad. Even though the Gunners have mainly fielded a reserve inspired eleven during the group stages, we can expect Arsenal to start taking the Europa League slightly more serious in their line up choices from now on. Their position in Premier League suggest that Champions League is far from granted, as they struggle to establish themselves among the top four. The trick could be to win Europa League, which would of course secure a spot in Champions League next season.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can not participate for Arsenal in Europa League, and Arsene Wenger uses the phrase "there is possibility to give time to many players", hinting at non regularly used Premier League players. Henrik Mkhitaryan is however allowed to feature in the Europa League squad. The Armenian was recently added, together with center back Konstantinos Mavropanos and Santi Cazorla, despite his injury concerns.
Arsene Wengers men will experience something they can barely imagine when coming to Ostersunds. No team in Englands top divisions play on artificial surface and especially not a hard frozen turf in -10 degrees in such an excluded distanced location. Ostersunds have not been playing actively since their last group stage match took place - but they did travel to Marbella in Spain for a training camp where they faced Lokomotiv Moscow (3-3) and Dynamo Kiev (2-2) in friendly matches.
They also played their first match in the Swedish Cup against new comers Trelleborg which ended in a 3-0 victory at home. Squad wise, Ostersunds have lost midfielder Fouad Bachirou (12/1) to Malmo FF. The loss is significant, as Bachirou was one of the most comfortable players on the ball and also in terms of being the key ball winner on the midfield to retain possession. Also, wing back Gabriel Somi (8/1) left for New England in MLS.
Arrivals include forward Dino Islamovic with experience from Holland and England and defender Sonko Sundberg from AIK. All in all, Ostersunds will come to play without two main players who used to feature in the group stage, but have kept the squad balanced with the additions too.
It is difficult to pick a side in this match. Ostersund are undefeated at home in Europe. Arsenal are inconsistent but have gotten a small positive injection after the transfer window. Although they rarely waste energy in away matches and prefer to rotate in the squad, they will be surprised by Ostersunds possession and attacking threat on this artificial turf. However, as we have seen in Ostersunds recent matches, they have started to concede goals, 3-3 and 2-2 in friendlies does not suggest stability at the moment.
I believe Arsenal are too good to leave the field without a goal, but they will have to work hard for it. Ostersund will also have good chances to find the net, which is why both teams to score is my favorite selection. That being said, I also feel that the value on Ostersund is interesting, because this will be so much different than what Arsenal are used to.