Arsenal are reeling after they were smashed by Liverpool in the Premier League, and Kevin Hatchard thinks they might struggle to bounce back against Slavia Prague.
"Slavia have won at Rangers and Leicester in this tournament, and they deserved to win both matches."
Arsenal v Slavia Prague
Thursday 08 April, 20:00
Live on BT Sport
Arteta stunned by Liverpool debacle
It's not unusual to see Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta be positive about his side's performances, even when they have lost (his revisionism of the defeat at Aston Villa is a great example), so it was really jarring and noteworthy to see him publicly castigate his players after an appalling display in Saturday's 3-0 home defeat to Liverpool. He admitted he was shocked by the lack of desire and the overall quality of the display, and conceded that had Liverpool been a little more clinical, the margin of defeat could have been bigger.
The Gunners certainly can't afford a repeat of that horror show against Slavia Prague on Thursday, as their campaign now rests on whether they can win the Europa League.
It's entirely conceivable that Arsenal will finish outside the European qualification places in the Premier League, so not only is this their last remaining route to glory, it could be their only ticket to continental competition next term.
Arsenal cruised through a weak UEL group, they showed admirable determination to squeeze past Benfica, and then they overcame Olympiakos despite the Greek side winning the second leg in North London 1-0. There is undoubted quality in the Arsenal side, but every time it looks as though Arteta has found a way to blend it, his players produce a performance that makes the whole project look doomed to failure. The forthcoming summer transfer window might be the club's most important in years.
Kieran Tierney is a doubt with a knee injury, and David Luiz has already been sidelined. Centre-back Gabriel played poorly against Liverpool, so Arteta has a decision to make. Granit Xhaka, Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka are all doubts at time of writing.
Racism row has detracted from Slavia's surge
Although Rangers boss Steven Gerrard admitted his team had been outplayed over two legs by Czech champions Slavia Prague in the round of 16, his side's defeat wasn't the main topic of conversation after Slavia's win at Ibrox. Slavia defender Ondrej Kudela was accused of racially abusing Rangers' Glen Kamara, and although Kudela and Slavia have issued a denial, the investigations continue.
Whatever the outcome of that process, the affair has detracted from what had been a fairytale run for Slavia. They have now knocked out Leicester City and Rangers, and they defeated Nice and Bayer Leverkusen in the group stage. These haven't been flukes, these have been excellent showings that have seen Jindrich Trpisovsky's side perform well in attack and defence.
This is a team that is used to winning (they are 14 points clear at the top of the Czech top flight) and they will have no fear of facing Arsenal. While they no longer have the drive and quality from midfield of Tomas Soucek, they pose threats from numerous sources. Peter Olayinka scored a fabulous goal at Ibrox, while Jan Kuchta and teenager Abdallah Sima are both in double figures when it comes to league goals. The star quality comes from Romanian wizard Nicolae Stanciu, who scored a magnificent free-kick against Rangers.
Slavia have a problem in goal because first-choice keeper Ondrej Kolar is injured after a clash with Rangers striker Kemar Roofe, who was sent off for a high boot. 18-year-old Matyas Vagner came on as a sub in that game, and will deputise again.
Slavia worth backing with insurance
Slavia have won 2-0 at Leicester City and Rangers, and I'm surprised to see Arsenal trading as short as 1.584/7 in the Match Odds market. The Gunners are yet produce a truly dominant display in the knockout phase (even in the win over Olympiakos they only pulled away late on), and Slavia are capable of being competitive here.
I'll back Slavia +1.0 on the Asian Handicap at 1.9210/11, which means that if they win or draw we get a winner, and we only lose our stake if the Czechs are beaten by two goals or more.
Slavia's stars are worth considering
Nicolae Stanciu scored in both legs against Rangers, and he has eight goals in his last seven games for Slavia. The Romania takes free-kicks, and is worth a look in the To Score market at 6.05/1. Jan Kuchta is priced at 4.57/2, while Abdallah Sima is available at 5.04/1.
Slavia to strike first?
Slavia have scored the first goal in seven of their ten Europa League games this season, while Arsenal have leaked the first goal in seven of their last ten matches overall. You can back Slavia to score the first goal on the Sportsbook at 3.259/4.
Kevin Hatchard 2021 Europa League Knockout P/L
Points Staked: 30
Points Returned: 30.08
P/L: +0.08 points