Arsenal take a giant stride towards the Europa League semi-finals, but an injury to Henrikh Mkhitaryan forces owners to reconsider ahead of a very favourable domestic schedule.
Arsene Wenger’s side will have a 4-1 lead over CSKA Moscow to defend in the Russian capital next Thursday after a breathless first-half at The Emirates during which all five goals were scored.
There were two each for Alexandre Lacazette and Aaron Ramsey, three of which were set up by an imperious Mesut Ozil and the other by Hector Bellerin.
But an away goal for the Russians, following a series of defensive errors by the Gunners, and the Londoners’ poor away form mean the tie isn’t quite done and dusted yet.
Arsenal have kept just three league clean sheets on the road all season – even the likes of Crystal Palace, Swansea City and Brighton have proved more resilient – and they were lucky not to concede more than one goal against a CSKA side clearly intent on attacking.
That, in turn, led to a host of chances for the home team, who had nine shots on target, and Ramsey was unfortunate not to complete a hat-trick when his second-half shot hit the post.
The Welsh international now has nine goals in all competitions this season, seven of which have come at the Emirates – his best tally in home fixtures as an Arsenal player.
Wenger spoke post-match of a job half done, although the tie is probably more heavily skewed in his team’s favour than that, even after Arsenal’s capacity for self-destruction is taken into account.
Then again, they might have to travel to Moscow without Mkhitaryan, who went off just after the hour-mark last night with a knee injury.
Wenger’s immediate prognosis was bleak, particularly regarding Gameweek 33’s visit from Southampton.
“He has a knee problem, we don’t know how bad it is, we have to assess it tomorrow morning. He will certainly be out for Sunday.”
This has already had an impact on the Fantasy Premier League (FPL) market- over the last 24 hours, the Armenian is second only to Mohamed Salah for sales.
And given the situation at the Gunners, the exodus concerning Mkhitaryan is likely to be the shape of things to come for other members of the side as well.
If Arsenal complete the Europa League job next week, they’ll move into the competition’s semi-finals, which will take place on April 26 and May 3.
Gameweek 35’s home fixture with West Ham precedes the tie and they’ll be away at Man United between the two legs.
Double Gameweek 37 then follows, with a home match against Burnley just two days after the second leg and a trip to Leicester City on the Wednesday rounding off a frenetic fortnight involving six fixtures.
Significantly, should the Gunners make the Europa League final, that takes place on Wednesday, May 16 – a mere three days after their final fixture of the season away at Huddersfield.
All of that means rotation of the side’s key players may well be inevitable, offsetting what is otherwise an attractive run-in from which the likes of Ramsey (3.8%) and Ozil (2.4%) could have emerged as excellent differentials.
Indeed, Ramsey has been rested for two of the last three Gameweeks, while Mkhitaryan was restricted to a role off the bench against Stoke last Sunday.
As mentioned above, the Gunners feature in Gameweek 35s’s reduced slate and have a Double Gameweek 37. However, it will be left to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to fly the Fantasy flag for Arsenal as the striker is ineligible for the Europa League.
The only problem for the 13.1%-owned striker is how much service he will receive from a side lacking many of its stars and without much motivation to successfully see out a season now riding entirely on European glory.
Arsenal’s immediate schedule (SOT new WHU) is sufficiently favourable that Aubameyang might be retained by some managers despite the lack of a Double Gameweek 34.
But, for many, the return to fitness of Harry Kane means the 10.8 invested in the Gunners striker could now be better spent elsewhere, particularly if Wenger decides to rotate heavily in his bid for European glory.