It was a mixed night for the two Premier League clubs in the UEFA Europa League round of 32 on Thursday.
Chelsea came away from Sweden with a first-leg advantage, but Arsenal slumped to a 1-0 defeat in Belarus and saw Alexandre Lacazette sent off late in the match for violent conduct.
The ramifications of the French striker’s dismissal and Sead Kolasinac‘s performance are among the Fantasy-related issues we address in our Scout Notes below.
BATE Borisov 1-0 Arsenal
Arsenal will be without Alexandre Lacazette (£9.5m) for the second leg of their Europa League tie against BATE next Thursday – and both legs of their last-16 match, should they progress – after the premium FPL forward was dismissed for an elbow on the Belarussian side’s Aleksandar Filipovic last night.
Next week’s return fixture takes place less than 72 hours before the Gameweek 27 clash with Southampton and Lacazette’s suspension, plus Arsenal’s first-leg deficit, will surely mean a start for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (£11.1m) up front when BATE visit north London.
Whether the Gabonese forward’s likely participation in that match affects Unai Emery’s thinking for the visit of Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side remains open to debate, however: Aubameyang will be otherwise well-rested, having missed the Gameweek 26 win over Huddersfield through illness, having played only 25 minutes of last night’s defeat and with Arsenal being without a fixture this weekend due to their fourth-round exit in the FA Cup.
The Southampton fixture is the first of three Premier League matches that Arsenal face in the space of seven days, though Aubameyang played the entirety of the Gunners’ festive programme without
Lacazette becomes an even more enticing Fantasy option given that he will be extra-fresh for the visit of the Saints, though a convincing performance by the Arsenal assets playing in his stead next Thursday will perhaps leave his owners sweating on a start in Gameweek 27.
Emery said of the French striker’s dismissal:
I didn’t see the action but we spoke and frustration needs controlling. It’s bad news with the red card. Next week we aren’t going to play with him but now we are going to think with the players that are okay for next week.
Having largely blooded fringe players in the Europa League group stage, Emery named a strong side for Thursday’s knockout-round tie in Belarus.
Nine of the ten outfield players that started at Huddersfield kept their places, with the fit-again Granit Xhaka (£5.2m) replacing Lucas Torreira (£4.8m) in midfield.
Bernd Leno made way for Petr Cech (both £4.8m) in Emery’s only other change.
Despite the strength of Emery’s starting XI, the Gunners produced a fairly limp display.
While they were not helped by the awful state of the pitch in Barysaw, Arsenal were well below-par offensively and could only muster three shots on target against a side they scored ten goals against a year earlier.
Most of Arsenal’s threat came down the left flank and there were plenty of positive signs for owners of Sead Kolasinac (£5.0m), who was the Gunners’ only real creative outlet and again noticeably prominent in the opposition final third.
The Bosnia and Herzegovina international registered an incredible seven key passes last night, more than the rest of his team-mates combined.
There were chances of real quality among that total, too: Lacazette and Henrikh Mkhitaryan (£6.7m) in particular wasting glorious opportunities from two Kolasinac deliveries in the first half.
Kolasinac was also denied an assist when an offside Lacazette turned in another cross from the gung-ho left-back after the break.
No player on either side had as many shots as Kolasinac, who blotted his copybook by losing his marker for the only goal of the match.
BATE’s winner came from a dead-ball situation, an area Arsenal have struggled in this calendar year: only four Premier League teams have allowed more chances from set plays than the Gunners in the last six Gameweeks.
Lacazette’s dismissal came after a frustrating evening for the France international, whose touch evaded him on a bobbly pitch.
He wasn’t alone in flattering to deceive, with Mkhitaryan and Ainsley Maitland-Niles (£4.4m) disappointing on the right flank and substitute Denis Suarez (£6.5m) still looking off the pace upon his introduction.
The absence of Mesut Ozil (£7.9m) was lamented by large sections of the Arsenal fanbase on an evening when the Gunners struggled to carve out too many clear-cut chances, especially after falling behind.
The German schemer had returned to training after an illness-enforced absence against Huddersfield Town but wasn’t part of Emery’s travelling squad for this tie, with the Arsenal boss citing a lack of match-readiness for both him and Sokratis (£5.1m).
When asked if the Gunners missed the German’s ingenuity, Emery said:
Every player is OK to play. Today those that were here, we can win with them and we deserved that.
Last week we won and we played with the same players. For me today there was no difference to the performance. We deserved to win but didn’t get the result.
They were very organised defensively and they found the moment in the game. It’s not for one player or another. We can win with every player and lose with the same players.
Arsenal XI (3-4-3): Cech; Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Maitland-Niles (Aubameyang 68′), Guendouzi, Xhaka (Torreira 69′), Kolasinac (Suarez 74′); Iwobi, Mkhitaryan, Lacazette.
Malmo 1-2 Chelsea
- Goals: Ross Barkley (£5.1m), Olivier Giroud (£7.7m)
- Assists: Pedro (£6.3m), Willian (£7.2m)
Chelsea’s Fantasy assets take a back seat in Gameweek 27, with their previously scheduled Premier League match against Brighton and Hove Albion being postponed due to the clash with the EFL Cup final.
The Blues have that cup tie against Manchester City on Sunday week, an FA Cup fifth-round match against Manchester United and the second leg of their Europa League double-header against Malmo to come before they return to league action in Gameweek 28 when they entertain Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge.
After the 6-0 mauling at the Etihad last Sunday, the Blues at least got back to winning ways in Sweden.
Maurizio Sarri made five changes to his starting XI from that humiliation at Eastlands, with Eden Hazard (£10.8m), Gonzalo Higuain (£9.5m), N’Golo Kante (£5.0m) and Antonio Rudiger (£6.0m) the players handed a breather on the bench.
Marcos Alonso (£6.5m) was rested altogether, meanwhile.
While this was an improved display from Sarri’s side, the calibre of the opposition has to be factored into the equation and there was a sense that nothing else had really changed since the recent drubbing in Manchester.
Jorginho (£4.7m) was once again the fulcrum of the midfield as Sarri continued as expected with his tried-and-tested 4-3-3, but the Blues made heavy going of their victory and conceded a sloppy consolation to give Malmo a sliver of hope for the second leg.
Ross Barkley (£5.1m) prodded home a Pedro (£6.3m) cross before Olivier Giroud (£7.7m) superbly finished a fine break to put the visitors 2-0 up, but other than a gilt-edged chance that Barkley fired at the fingertips of home goalkeeper Johan Dahlin, it was difficult to think of any further glaring opportunities that Chelsea carved out.
Giroud’s stoppage-time effort from a narrow angle was the only other shot on target that Chelsea recorded, with the French striker also slicing a difficult volley wide after a chipped through-ball from Willian (£7.7m).
Seven of Chelsea’s 11 shots came from Giroud, who led the line well and will surely be handed another start in a week’s time to spare Higuain for the “bigger” tests in the two domestic cups.
The fact that Sarri brought on Hazard in the final 20 minutes was perhaps an indication that he wanted more from his side in an attacking sense and the Chelsea boss admitted as much after full-time:
Today, we played our football. I think that we need to move the ball forward back, forward back. In this match we moved the ball too much horizontal, so we need to move it more forward and back, forward and back.
But in the last period, we’ve had the problem of up and down, up and down. 4-0, 5-0 to us, 6-0, so we need to have continuity and consistency, I think in the mental condition to be able to approach every match with the same level of application, determination and attention.
Malmo threatened little from open play, with the bulk of their opportunities coming from scrambles in the Chelsea box as the Blues struggled to cope with the Swedes’ threat at free-kicks and corners.
Kepa Arrizabalaga (£5.6m) had only made one save before Malmo struck in the 80th minute, with David Luiz (£5.9m) culpable for ceding possession high up the pitch and Emerson Palmieri (£5.2m) guilty of losing his marker as Anders Christiansen finished the breakaway move.
Sarri said of his side’s defensive efforts:
We risked only on set-pieces because they are more physical than us. We could have scored more, I think. But we conceded a goal on a mistake. Today, the level of application and attention was good. We made a mistake, I think, a material mistake. So it could have been better.
If we concede a goal like this to a team like Manchester City or United or Tottenham, then you risk conceding three goals in ten minutes. So we have to do better, I think. But I think that the performance was a good performance.
Chelsea XI (4-3-3): Arrizabalaga; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Luiz, Emerson; Kovacic, Jorginho (Kante 74′), Barkley; Pedro (Hudson-Odoi 84′), Giroud, Willian (Hazard 71′).