Arsenal are licking their wounds after a damaging defeat to Leicester, and Kevin Hatchard thinks they'll take out their frustration on Dundalk.
"Dundalk were eventually overwhelmed by Molde, and this trip to the Emirates is an even bigger step up. Arsenal will feature a number of players who are keen to catch Mikel Arteta's eye."
Arsenal v Dundalk
Thursday 29 October, 20:00
Live on BT Sport 2
Arteta trying to retain faith as he rebuilds the church
Arsenal have managed to maintain a steady stream of cup successes in recent seasons, winning the FA Cup four times in six years and reaching the Europa League final in 2019. However, their fans have had so many disappointments in the league that every setback uncovers something of a nihilistic streak. After the Gunners' lame 1-0 home defeat to Leicester City, there was talk on social media of manager Mikel Arteta being no better than his predecessor Unai Emery, and perhaps being even worse.
There's no doubt that Arteta has stiffened the squad's resolve, and cup wins over Manchester City and Chelsea this year have shown what is possible, with silverware won not once but twice at Wembley (yes, the Community Shield counts). Last week, Arsenal came from behind to win 2-1 at Rapid Vienna in a game they may have lost a year or two ago.
However, that solidity has perhaps come at a cost. If you look at Infogol's Expected Goals figures, Arsenal put up a season figure of 52.3 last season in the Premier League (they slightly overperformed and scored 56), and this term they have put up a total figure of 7.4 in six top-flight outings. For context, joint leaders Liverpool have put up a figure of 15.7.
While Arteta tries to bridge the gap between Arsenal and the Premier League's top four, his side should at least be able to serenely cruise through this group into the last 32. The trip to Vienna was arguably the hardest on the schedule, and a set of six wins is eminently possible. David Luiz and Willian are short of full fitness, and it'd be a surprise to see them risked here. Eddie Nketiah will probably spearhead the attack, with skipper Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang kept in reserve for the weekend's clash with Manchester United.
Dundalk have already won, but can they compete?
Dundalk's progress to this stage is an historic achievement, as a side from the Republic of Ireland has only reached the group phase on three occasions. On Matchday One, the Irish champions pushed Norwegians Molde hard, but ultimately had to settle for a 2-1 defeat. It was always going to be tough to qualify for the last 32, but now that task has been made a whole lot harder.
Perhaps it's inevitable that a glamorous European run should pull focus away from the grind of the domestic game, but Dundalk's overall form is alarming. They are 13 points behind the leaders Shamrock Rovers, and have played two more games. They have won three of their last 11 top-flight matches, and have scored a paltry 12 goals in the process.
Lilywhites' boss Filippo Giovagnoli has no fresh injury concerns, although he may look to shake things up after the weekend's league defeat at Waterford.
Gunners to overpower inexperienced visitors
Although this isn't the great day out it might have been for Dundalk, given the inability of fans to attend, it is still a significant occasion. However, it would be a major surprise if they even kept this close, despite the likelihood of Mikel Arteta resting key players. Dundalk scored with their only shot on target against Molde, and allowed seven shots on their own goal, so their 2-1 defeat at Tallaght could have been worse.
I'll back Arsenal to win, to score the first goal and for there to be more than 3.5 goals on the Sportsbook's Same Game Multi at 1.9520/21.
Pepe to stake a claim?
Former Lille winger Nicolas Pepe is yet to really nail down a first-team place at Arsenal, but this game may give him a chance to shine. The Ivorian scored a dramatic match-winning brace against Vitoria Guimaraes in this competition last season, and against limited opposition, he is worth a look at evens in the To Score market if he's included in the starting XI.
On the Dundalk side of things, Sean Murray has scored in the last three UEL games, and he is priced at 14/1 to find the net here.
Kevin Hatchard 2020-21 P/L
Points staked: 62
Points Returned: 58.26
P/L: -3.74 points