Arsenal vs Qarabag - Koscielny to make Arsenal return in Europa League

Posted Thursday, December 13, 2018 by PA

Arsenal vs Qarabag - Koscielny to make Arsenal return in Europa League

Laurent Koscielny is set to make his top level comeback from injury when Arsenal host Europa League opponents Qarabag on Thursday.

The Gunners club captain has not played since suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon in May, but will feature in a much-changed team.

The defender missed France’s World Cup success as he battled back to fitness and featured for 85 minutes in a Checkatrade Trophy clash with Portsmouth last week.

Arsenal vs Qarabag - Koscielny to make Arsenal return in Europa League

Koscielny is now set to start against Azerbaijani minnows Qarabag as Arsenal manager Unai Emery tests his fitness ahead of a Premier League return.

“Our first aim in this competition, we have done, which was to be first in the group,” Arsenal boss Emery said.

“But we respect this competition and we respect Qarabag, and tomorrow our objective is to win and we are going to give players chances tomorrow to take responsibility, take rhythm and take confidence.

“Also, because we are going to play a lot of matches, in the next 10 days we play four matches – each of them very important…it is in our planning to start with Laurent Koscielny.

“We are going to decide after tomorrow’s match, as it’s the first match with us that Laurent Koscielny will play. We are going to look also if he can play 90 minutes or less minutes in this game.

“We can use another player in this position, someone like Nacho Monreal, who is also with us and in his career he played in this position.

“We are going to decide, but the first is to think about the match tomorrow because we need to receive information on how he can feel tomorrow.”

The Gunners have a defensive crisis on their hands ahead of Sunday’s trip to Southampton with Rob Holding and Konstantinos Mavropanos injured, Shkodran Mustafi struggling with a hamstring problem and Sokratis Papastathopoulos suspended.

That could mean Koscielny will be asked to play twice in four days as Emery prepares to welcome back his skipper.

Meanwhile, Mesut Ozil has missed the last five games in all competitions, having initially dropped out of the side at Bournemouth before being ruled out with a back injury.

He could also be in line to play against Qarabag, having lost his place in Emery’s Premier League side.

“I don’t know,” Emery replied when asked if Ozil would feature.

“Tomorrow he is in the group, there are 18 players in the squad for this match and I am going to decide if he plays tomorrow from the beginning or during the match in the 90 minutes.”

Qarabag coach Gurban Gurbanov takes his side to face Arsenal admitting that English football is “100 years” ahead of the game in Azerbaijan.

While the Gunners have already assured themselves of top spot in Group E ahead of the final group-stage encounter, Azerbaijan Premier League champions Qarabag cannot make it through to the knockout stages.

Gurbanov has overseen five title wins in the last five years as Qarabag continue to dominate the domestic game.

But their struggles in European competition can be summed up by their five meetings against Premier League opponents – five defeats, two apiece against Chelsea and Tottenham and a 3-0 home loss to Arsenal earlier this season – with an aggregate score of 17-1.

“We can be strong physically, but in terms of creation and pace, very important factors, we must improve our game play and vision,” Gurbanov said.

“This is one of the strongest teams that we have faced and is why we must always play at this level – to improve our physical and technical skills.

“Unfortunately we are still far from this level, we are a very small football nation and England’s top sides are 100 years ahead of us.

“We want to start making new steps but England are very far ahead in terms of development, that is why we must love Azerbaijani football and improve Azerbaijani football.”s

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