There is really no excuse for Arsenal not winning this at a cantor, despite their tepid form of late. Dundalk are not the same team that they were four years ago when they made the Europa League under Stephen Kenny and, even then, Arsenal would have been expected to beat that team comfortably.
The Lilywhites have been phenomenal ambassadors for the League of Ireland, but they only managed to qualify for this season’s Europa League by virtue of one of the kindest draws in the competition’s history, beating teams from Andorra, Moldova and the Faroe Islands en route to the group stages.
The performed well for 45 minutes against Molde last week, but were eventually outclassed by a team that is several levels below Arsenal. Considering the gulf in the two clubs’ budgets, there would be no words to describe the embarrassment if Arsenal failed to beat Dundalk on Thursday and, in truth, it would be frankly humiliating for the Gunners if Dundalk managed to get within a goal or two of them.
This should be a straightforward home win in a season that has been anything but straightforward.
Given the gulf between the two teams, Mikel Arteta is likely to rest his key players ahead of a trip to Old Trafford on Sunday, meaning that Eddie Nketiah should once again be handed a Europa League starting berth. He’s already scored twice this season – half of his tally last season – and he has an excellent chance to improve that on Thursday.
Arsenal, for all their problems with creativity in the league, will have plenty of chances against Dundalk and Nketiah proved against West Ham that he can be in the right place at the right time to tuck away an easy chance.
Arsenal have had trouble scoring in the first half of late and haven’t managed to do so in their last five games, but they have the perfect opportunity to put that right on Thursday night. They will dominate the ball for long stages and Dundalk don’t have the quality to keep them out for long.
The Irish club have conceded 20 league goals in 16 games against far inferior opposition and buckled under second-half pressure from Molde in their opening fixture.
They even looked vulnerable at the back in their play-off against KÍ from the Faroe Islands and surely Mikel Arteta will want to kill this off as quickly as possible so that he can avoid any potential embarrassments and turn his attention to Manchester United.
Dundalk may be levels below Arsenal, but they will not be afraid to have a go at the Emirates. The Irish side have dominated the League of Ireland for years by playing on the front foot and their previous Europa League campaign was notable for how they took the game to their big budgeted opposition.
Thursday night will be no different and they will try to get forward whenever they can. Arsenal, meanwhile, will likely rotate at the back and may leave enough space for the Irish side to get a couple of shots off.
The Gunners have undoubtedly improved defensively under Arteta, but their best defensive performances have been underpinned by sitting in against superior opposition and sacrificing their own attacking threat. It will be a different ball game on Thursday when they go on the front foot and they may just leave space in behind.
*All odds correct at time of publication, but are up-to-date on our snazzy betting widgets.
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