Arsenal without three players for trip to CSKA Moscow

Arsenal will be missing goalkeeper David Ospina and midfielders Granit Xhaka and Henrikh Mkhitaryan for Thursday’s Europa League quarter-final clash with CSKA Moscow. Santi Cazorla remains a long-term absentee and looks unlikely to return before the season comes to a close.

As for Ospina, the Colombian shot-stopper was ruled out for more than two weeks by manager Arsene Wenger on April 6, meaning Petr Cech is in line to start for the Gunners. The 35-year-old was Arsenal’s second-choice goalkeeper for the Europa League but was drafted in after Ospina sprained his ankle in training.

Wenger had left Cech out of the Europa League matchday squad on six occasions to afford him a rest, but the veteran looks set to make his third appearance in the competition. He’ll be hoping to retain his place between the sticks if Arsenal progress, but it’s unknown if Ospina’s return later this month will result in a change.

Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech. Picture: Ben Sutherland/Flickr

As for Mkhitaryan, the January arrival may not feature again until next season after damaging his knee ligaments. The 29-year-old enjoyed a decent start to life at Arsenal, scoring and creating eight goals in 12 games in all competitions, but there are fears he may not return for the rest of the campaign.

Wenger is keeping an open mind and believes there’s a slim chance Mkhitaryan could be back in time before the season ends, but it’s hardly worth rushing him back for one or two cameo appearances if he isn’t 100%.

Cazorla is hoping to return in 2019, but it’s hard to see him being the same player he was before his injury back in October 2016.

The Spanish international has endured 10 operations to fix an achilles problem and subsequent infection, but his age may see him consider retirement if setback continue to occur.

Ospina, Mkhitaryan and Cazorla are the only three players out of action for Arsenal, so Wenger is spoilt for choice when choosing his side XI to face CSKA.

Cech is a definite to start at the VEB Arena with Ospina out. Hector Bellerin has barely missed a game in any competition this season and will get the nod at right-back. Nacho Monreal was rested in Sunday’s win over Southampton but that may have been so he was in good condition to return to left-back against CSKA, having played in the first leg at the Emirates.

At centre-back, Shkodran Mustafi could be partnered by Laurent Koscielny or Calum Chambers. It’s likely to be the former given his experience and the fact he appeared to be rested for this encounter by Wenger.

In the midfield, Mohamed Elneny could partner Aaron Ramsey, who dropped out of the matchday squad in Sunday’s victory to be fresh to face the Russian outfit. Jack Wilshere might be the third man in midfield for the away fixture to ensure CSKA don’t get a foothold in midfield. Granit Xhaka is out with flu

Mesut Ozil should start as a makeshift inside forward on the right, given freedom to find space in attacking areas to create chances of teammates. Danny Welbeck should compliment him on the opposite flank. Alexandre Lacazette will lead the line in place of the ineligible Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Arsenal’s predicted XI to face CSKA Moscow: Petr Cech; Hector Bellerin, Laurent Koscielny, Shkodran Mustafi, Nacho Monreal; Mohamed Elneny, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey; Danny Welbeck, Mesut Ozil, Alexandre Lacazette.

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Crippy can be found on Twitter (@CrippyCooke). He is a sports journalist who has written for the Independent, Bleacher Report, Huffington Post, Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph among others. Crippy treats football gossip with a dash of cynicism and loves tearing apart outlandish rumours.

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