Petr Cech could be in line to start for Arsenal against CSKA Moscow in the first leg of Thursday night’s Europa League clash, with Danny Welbeck expected to make way for Alexandre Lacazette.
The Gunners’ first-choice goalkeeper, who joined from Chelsea in 2015, could be drafted in to replace David Ospina with the Colombian carrying a minor injury.
Despite Cech having made just one appearance in the Europa League this season – keeping a clean sheet against Red Star on October 19 – Wenger admitted the 35-year-old could dethrone Ospina.
When asked which goalkeeper would start between the sticks in Thursday’s game at the Emirates, he said to Arsenal.com on Wednesday: “That as well… you will see that tomorrow.”
Ospina has reportedly passed himself fit enough to start against CSKA, but Wenger might pull rank and drop him for the experienced Cech.
It’s a big surprise given the former OGC Nice stopper has been first-choice for Europe, the FA Cup and EFL Cup this season, let alone Cech having missed Sunday’s win over Stoke City through injury.
Arsenal can’t afford to take any risks at the Emirates. They’ve never beaten a Russian side in their own backyard under Wenger so they have to win at home and try not to concede an away goal.
Cech has a wealth of experience in high-pressure European encounters, but his form has been inconsistent for the Gunners.
The veteran ‘keeper went 11 league games without keeping a clean sheet recently and is only averaging one every three games this season. He could be a gamble, but is Ospina any better?
Wenger is also planning a surprise start for Lacazette, who scored on his return from injury on Sunday. The French international has only amassed 29 minutes of football since early-February so he could be short of match fitness against CSKA.
Welbeck’s lack of goals has forced the manager’s hand, however, as the former has netted only three in the Premier League this season to Lacazette’s 10. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is ineligible to play in the Europa League so Lacazette is the next best attacking option.
Thursday evening’s clash with CSKA will be his first Europa League appearance in an Arsenal shirt. He was left out of the squad in the group stages earlier this season and missed the knockout rounds due to a knee injury. But now he plays in one of the Gunners’ most important games of the campaign.
With Arsenal out of the title race, unlikely to catch Tottenham to finish in the top-four, eliminated from the FA Cup and having lost the EFL Cup, the Europa League is their only hope of winning silverware and getting Champions League football next season.
Wenger used the competition to blood through youngsters in the earlier fixtures, but he likely won’t take any risks against CSKA. His future as manager may well depend on Thursday evening’s game, so fans can surely expect the strongest eleven possible at the Emirates.
Arsenal’s predicted XI to face CSKA: Petr Cech, Hector Bellerin, Shkodran Mustafi, Calum Chambers, Nacho Monreal, Granit Xhaka, Mohamed Elneny, Aaron Ramsey, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Alexandre Lacazette, Mesut Ozil