Team: Sporting CP
Current League Position: 3rd in the Premiera Liga. Key Player(s): Bas Dost and Bruno Fernandes. Match Dates: October 25th, November 8th. Prediction for games: Win home and draw away. Storyline for the game: How will Sporting perform after massive turnover in the squad following this summer’s debacle?
Sporting is undoubtedly the most dangerous team in this group, and despite the large amount of changes at several levels in the club, they still possess a very potent squad. Gelson Martins and Rui Patricio are big losses, but players like Bas Dost have the goals to prove that they could be a threat to the Gunners. The Portuguese giants have had some recent experience in making Europa League runs as well, just last year being held out of a semi-final by a Jan Oblak goalkeeping masterclass.
Team: Qarabag FK
Current League Position: 5th in the Azerbaijan Premier League. Key Player(s): Mahir Mədətov, Riçard Almeyda de Oliveira. Match Dates: October 4th, December 3rd. Prediction for games: Win home and loss away. Storyline for the game: Will Henrikh Mkhitaryan be excluded from the squad in Baku due to his status as an Armenian international?
In recent years, Qarabag has gotten a reputation around Europe for being the whipping boys of top league European teams. a distinction not helped by losses such as 0-6 and 0-4 to Chelsea and 1-5 to Fiorentina. Regardless of the drubbings, the Armenian club is no joke. A consistent qualifier for the group stages of the Europa and Champions Leagues (5 years straight), Qarabag has been to the far reaches of Europe and back. And despite some of the slaughters that have made headlines, the boys from Baku have both quietly and not-so-quietly grinded out some relatively positive results as well. Against Arsenal, Qarabag will look to emulate last year’s 0-0 and 1-1 home and away draws vs Atletico Madrid, or even perhaps 2015’s 0-1 defeat to Tottenham, where it took only a late Harry Kane goal to separate the sides.
Team: FC Vorskla Poltava
Current League Position: 7th in the Ukrainian Premier League, Key Player(s): Pavlo Rebenok, Match Dates: September 20th, November 29th. Prediction for games: Wins both home and away. Storyline for games: Can Arsenal avoid having to scrap out a 0-0 in harsh away conditions?
Probably the most unknown team in the group, Vorskla, a usual mid-table team in the Ukrainian Premier League, enjoyed a strong campaign last year partly due to a breakout season from 33 year old left-footed midfielder Pavlo Rebenok. The Ukrainian has never been capped for his national team, but enjoyed an individual breakout season last year, racking up 1 goal and 11 assists, a G/A total greater than his prior numbers in his last two seasons combined. It will be interesting to see if Rebenok can keep up this play against the vastly heightened quality of defense provided by even Arsenal’s B team.