The Gunners will be looking to make it three wins from three in this season’s Europa League competition when they welcome Norwegian champions Molde FK to the Emirates on 5 November.
Victories over Rapid Vienna and Dundalk have made for a strong start to the European campaign and another win in London on Thursday would leave qualification tantalisingly within touching distance for Mikel Arteta’s men.
But, despite a morale-boosting win over Manchester United on Sunday, the team is still a little stodgier than many would like and the visitors will no doubt have noticed how difficult Arsenal have found balancing their new-found defensive solidity with attacking intent.
In short, it will be no pushover.
Erling Moe’s side come into the match in excellent form, having won six on the bounce, including wins over Vienna and Dundalk, and they currently sit in second place in the Eliteserien – albeit some way behind leaders FK Bodo/Glimt.
With legs likely to be heavy after all the hard yards put in at Old Trafford, rotation is to be expected, with the likes of Reiss Nelson and Joe Willock (neither of whom featured at Old Trafford) set to return along with Eddie Nketiah, Nicolas Pepe, Alex Runarsson, and perhaps even Folarin Balogun.
The real dilemma for Arteta will come at the back at his looks to juggle the need for solidity with the precarious injury situation he faces. Rob Holding played the full 90 minutes at Old Trafford despite only just returning from a hamstring strain, while Shkodran Mustafi hasn’t played more than 45 minutes since his own return from a three-month lay-off. David Luiz is still shaking off the effects of the thigh strain which saw him limp off against Leicester City in October, while Pablo Mari and Callum Chambers are unlikely to feature before the end of the month owing to lengthy injury lay offs of their own. And, given his importance to the squad, it would be miraculous if we saw Gabriel anywhere near this fixture.
The balancing act, therefore, will be difficult and it may well necessitate a little risk-taking from the manager ahead of the international break. I suspect Gabriel and Rob Holding will be spared this one and we may well see a return to the back three of Mustafi, Sead Kolasinac and Cedric Soares.
Further up the pitch, it will be interesting to see how Arteta shapes his side up, particularly as Molde may be looking to follow in Dundalk’s footsteps. After meeting pretty doughty resistance against the Irish side, the young Gunners did eventually find their way through and took control thereafter.
I suspect the Norwegians will prove tougher still to break down and that may call for something more expansive from the manager, particularly if the game remains deadlocked going into the second half.
That said, the pace and trickery of Nelson together with the movement of Willock proved a potent combination in the last round of fixtures and it would be good to see those two given a chance to impress again, perhaps with Emile Smith-Rowe, Nketiah and Ainsley Maitland-Niles to supplement their talents.
It would be particularly encouraging to see Smith-Rowe play, if fit, as he is oft cited as the sort of player who can provide the link between the midfield and the front two or three, an area in which the Gunners have struggled badly as the manager has sought to tighten things up.
That said, however, it may be a little premature for too much on-pitch experimentation, especially with qualification not yet sewn up. Arteta doesn’t come across as one who lives much to chance and I doubt he will rest until passage into the next round is secure. Let’s get the job done first and worry about the mechanics later.