Arsenal make the short hop to Switzerland to begin their Europe League adventure on Thursday evening, where an out-of-form FC Zurich are lying in wait. Coached by ex-Austria boss Franco Foda, the Swiss champions sit second last in their domestic division and three points could be easy pickings for the Gunners in their Group A opener at the Stadion Letzigrund.
FC Zurich will be without the services of defender Ilan Sauter and attacker Bogdan Vyunnyk on Thursday, though Head Coach Franko Foda has few personnel issues beyond that.
Foda likes to structure his team in a somewhat unorthodox 3-5-2 formation, which is largely akin to the shape deployed by Graham Potter at Brighton.
Mikel Arteta is expected to make sweeping changes to his XI on Thursday evening in a bid to keep his more established stars fresh for the weekend’s Premier League action, making it difficult to nail down a predicted Gunners side.
The team’s formation is unlikely to alter, however, so expect to see a flat back four and two sitting midfielders behind a fluid four-man frontline in Switzerland.
FC Zurich’s title defence in Switzerland has been meek so far and they’ve pocketed just two points from the first 21 on offer. Unsurprisingly then, their underlying numbers make for equally dismal reading.
FCZ have scored just 0.57 times per 90 minutes, while their goals against (2.29 p/90) and shots on target against (6.00 p/90) figures shine an unflattering light on the team’s defensive woes.
Sunday’s bum note at Manchester United (1-3) aside, Arsenal have been on song in the Premier League this season, where they rank near the summit for goals for (2.33), xG for (1.97), shots for (17.33) and corners for (6.50) per 90.
The league leaders have also been impressively solid in their own third, where only Man City hold a better xG against since the summer.
Player Shots and Shots on Target
Antonio Marchesano, Jonathon Okita and Tosin Aiyegun have been FC Zurich’s most attack-minded players this term, though their strong supporting stats haven’t been aligning with their actual output, which shows a single goal notched between them so far.
31-year-old Marchesano is the trio’s odd one out in that he operates primarily in midfield, while Okita and Aiyegun are more traditional forwards.
Arsenal’s front four have been electric this season and Gabriel Martinelli (3.44), Gabriel Jesus (3.46), Martin Odegaard (2.37) and Bukayo Saka (2.39) all place well for shots per 90.
It remains to be seen just how many of that quartet will see action on Thursday, however, if any of the Gunners’ star performers make the cut, expect them to sparkle again.
Player Goals and Assists
FC Zurich have had major problems in the goal-scoring department this season and they have yet to fully adapt to the loss of Assan Ceesay in the summer. The Gambian scored 20 times to help fire FCZ to Super League glory last term before he jumped ship to Lecce in Italy.
None of the team’s current forwards has managed to score more than once in 2022/23, though Tosin Aiyegun has had his creative hat on, laying on three assists so far.
Gabriel Jesus’ impact since his switch south from Man City has been predictably immediate and the Brazilian (3G, 3A) is revelling in his more prominent role with Arsenal.
His compatriot Gabriel Martinelli (3A) is excelling from the left, while Martin Odegaard (3A), who is usually content to provide, has been upping his own numbers in front of goal.
Watch out for Eddie Nketiah if he starts in Switzerland. The academy graduate notched three times in eight appearances when the Gunners last competed in the Europa League (2020/21 season).
FC Zurich Cards
FC Zurich have been biting into tackles with a fair degree of frustration in the Super League this season, which is understandable given their underwhelming start.
Mirlind Kryeziu hasn’t held back in defence, where he has collected three cards in just five appearances, while midfielders Ole Selnaes (2 cards) and Blerim Dzemaili (1.74 fouls p/90) should bring plenty of aggression to proceedings in the middle of the pitch on Thursday. At 36, Dzemaili could struggle to keep pace with the more youthful legs in Arsenal’s ranks.
Arsenal Cards Drawn
Arsenal’s rapid Brazilian Gabriels, Jesus (3.62 p/90) and Martinelli (2.93 p/90) have been fouled most often this season, while stand-in achorman Albert Lokonga’s combative streak has also been drawing a slew of ill-timed challenges (2.63 p/90). Watch out for his duels with Selnaes and Dzemaili.
Saka’s quick feet on the right flank (2.88 dribbles p/90) have also suckered his markers into making plenty of silly tackles. Pay attention if he isolates Kryeziu one-on-one.
Match-Ups to watch
Mirlind Kryeziu vs Bukayo Saka
Ole Selnaes vs Albert Lokonga
Blerim Dzemaili vs Albert Lokonga
Mikel Arteta is a disciple of Pep Guardiola’s footballing doctrine, including the chapters on tactical fouling and defenders William Saliba (2 bookings) and Ben White (2 cards) have both been cynical at times this season when Arsenal are being countered.
Rob Holding and Takehiro Tomiyasu could replace Saliba and White on Thursday, however, but expect them to follow the same gameplan if they do. Watch out for Tomiyasu’s battles with leading Zurich assist-maker Tosin Aiyegun in particular.
FC Zurich Cards Drawn
Veteran midfielder Dzemaili has been in the wars this season and the 31-year-old has been fouled 3.91 times per 90 minutes in Switzerland. His foil in the middle of the park, Ole Salnaes (fouled 2.0 times p/90), has also been in the thick of it.
Livewire winger Wilfried Gnonto had been stopped in his tracks 3.49 times p/90 in the campaign’s early throes, though the 5’5″ 18-year-old left Zurich to join Leeds on deadline day.
Match-Ups to watch
Takehiro Tomiyasu vs Tosin Aiyegun
Granit Xhaka vs Blerim Dzemaili
Rob Holding vs Tosin Aiyegun
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