Dundalk v Arsenal
Thursday 10 December, 17:55
Live on BT Sport 2
Underdogs have played with pride
It was always going to be a big step up for Dundalk in the Europa League group stage, and while they have suffered defeat in all five of their matches, they have produced some moments of quality and battled gamely. Some of the matches have been close. They led Norwegian side Molde before losing 2-1 at home, they led early on in Vienna and gave Rapid a scare on two before being edged out in a 4-3 thriller, and they have scored in all but one of their group matches.
These presentable performances have been all the more laudable when you bear in mind how patchy Dundalk’s domestic form has been. They have won three of their last 13 league games, and they are a whopping 22 points behind the leaders Shamrock Rovers. That said, they produced arguably their best result of the season at the weekend, as they won the FAI Cup final 4-2 against Shamrock Rovers. Veteran forward David McMillan scored a hat-trick.
Forward Patrick Hoban is unavailable, but apart from that, manager Filippo Giovagnoli can call upon his strongest side.
Gunners’ gloom has deepened with derby defeat
Football changes quickly, and so do opinions, and Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta is finding that his popularity is starting to take a nosedive. A 2-0 defeat to Premier League leaders Tottenham in the North London derby was bad enough, but Arteta’s assessment of the game, suggesting his side had dominated throughout, was difficult to accept.
With Arsenal closer to the bottom three than the top four, the small mercies offered by the Europa League have been welcome. They have won all five of their group-stage games, and could ape Tottenham’s 2012 achievement by collecting the full 18 points.
Pablo Mari should start again after the former Flamengo defender featured and scored in the 4-1 win over Rapid Vienna. Flamengo have really struggled to maintain a high defensive line without him, and Arsenal fans probably don’t realise at this stage what a smart signing he could prove to be.
UEL regulars like Nicolas Pepe, Eddie Nketiah and Reiss Nelson chould all start, but Thomas Partey is out injured.
Arsenal firm favourites, but unattractively priced
Arsenal won the reverse fixture 3-0, and you can understand why they are trading as short as 1.21/5 to take the victory. You could boost the price by backing the Gunners -2.5 on the Asian Handicap at 2.26/5 – if Arsenal win by three goals or more, you win.
Goals on the cards in final fling?
Dundalk understandably played quite defensively at the Emirates, but they may be a bit more adventurous on what is a special occasion. Over 3.5 Goals is priced at 23/20 on the Sportsbook, a bet that has landed in Dundalk’s last three UEL games.
Pepe can impress again
Nicolas Pepe was outstanding in the 4-1 win over Rapid, even though he didn’t score, and he has been arguably Arsenal’s best player in the group stage (three goals and two assists). The Ivorian is priced at 7/4 to find the net, and I think that’s an attractive quote.