Charlie Nicholas delivers his predictions for the Europa League, with Arsenal and Celtic in action in the round of 32.
The Soccer Saturday pundit rightly tipped Champions League victories for Manchester City in Basel and Liverpool against Porto but how does he rate Arsenal’s chances at Ostersunds and Celtic’s hopes against Zenit?
Here’s what Charlie is predicting for Thursday’s Europa clashes…
Ostersunds v Arsenal (Thursday, 6pm)
This is a painful one for me because it looks an easy tie and even a big win does little to ease the absolute farce of Saturday’s derby defeat. There can be no excuses here.
They’ve got a cup final 10 days afterwards and they could go here and get embarrassed if they don’t win. I see Arsenal are only odds of 1/2 to win this and they should be 1/5 for this sort of game against such an unknown entity.
They should get this tie done this Thursday with a strong side; Danny Welbeck will have to step up given Alexandre Lacazette is injured and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang ineligible.
I’d actually play a front two with Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Mesut Ozil behind and accept that we’re not going to defend. There’s no point in playing Mohamed Elneny and Granit Xhaka together, because they’ll never be able to tackle.
I’m going for Arsenal to win by three goals and if they don’t win by that margin, it will be a disappointment as the second leg comes right before the Carabao Cup final.
Charlie predicts: 0-3 and Welbeck to score first (30/1 with Sky Bet)
Celtic v Zenit St Petersburg (Thursday, 8.05pm)
Celtic are not playing well at the moment. The energy levels will be high for a European night at Celtic Park but that is the only reason why they are marginal favourites.
Scott Sinclair and Moussa Dembele, the two players you expect to step up in the big games, are both out of form, while Leigh Griffiths is injured. Dembele would be lucky to attract another £12m bid with the way he’s been performing.
Dedryck Boyata is out so they’ll probably have to play Nir Bitton, who is a midfielder not a defender, so that adds to the concerns for a side which really struggle to adapt to not dominating the ball, which they are used to doing in the league.
Zenit have had a long break, which can go either way, but the lack of form and defensive issues concerns. I could see Brendan Rodgers’ old mate Branislav Ivanovic taking advantage of Celtic’s lack of set-piece security – but it looks like he’s struggling to be fit.
Charlie predicts: 1-2 and Aleksandr Kokorin to score first (25/1 with Sky Bet)