Arsenal routed CSKA Moscow 4-1 in the first leg of the Europa League quarterfinals but must be wary of a comeback on hostile territory.
Arsenal have one foot in the Europa League semifinals after their quick 4-1 demolition of CSKA Moscow in the first leg at the Emirates. The Gunners travel to Moscow and should expect a much different atmosphere to what they are used to in north London.
CSKA will have to turn around a three goal deficit, which seems like a big ask, but they have a lifeline in the away goal they managed to snag in the first meeting.
Arsenal have been full of surprises away from home this season, and not in a good way, so don't rule out anything yet.
But after heavily rotating over the weekend, it is clear that the Gunners mean business in this competition.
Since their disappointing trip to London, CSKA Moscow have suffered the sting of defeat in a Moscow derby. The Horses lost 2-1 to Dinamo Moscow at home on Monday night. While the main Moscow Derby is between CSKA and Spartak Moscow, defeat to Dinamo would have been just as painful as it now leaves CSKA eight points adrift of Russian Premier League leaders Lokomotiv Moscow.
Arsenal, meanwhile, battled hard to win at home against Southampton to extend their winning run to six matches.
Arsene Wenger rotated his squad heavily for the weekend fixture and suffered for it early on when the relegation-threatened Saints took the lead through Shane Long. Arsenal responded and took control of the tie by half time with goals from Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang and Danny Welbeck.
Substitute Charlie Austin leveled for the Saints late in the second half, but Welbeck added his second to earn Arsenal the three points. The match ended dramatically as a fracas in injury time led to Mohamed Elneny and Jack Stephens receiving red cards. Elneny's red has since been rescinded.
Aaron Ramsey vs Aleksandr Golovin
The first leg of this tie proved how important Aaron Ramsey is to Arsenal. The Welshman really could have scored four or five in the home leg but had to settle for a brace. His second goal was the pick of the bunch; a sumptuous volleyed flick over Igor Akinfeev. It could have been the goal of the week, if not for a certain Cristiano Ronaldo scoring a sublime bicycle kick two days prior.
But Ramsey, along with Mesut Ozil, was central to all of Arsenal's attacks in the first leg. His presence was felt all over the pitch by playing in a deeper role and creating attacking moves. It was an all-round perfect midfield performance which added to his case for him to be made the next Arsenal skipper.
Aleksandr Golovin was one of CSKA's better performers in an otherwise disappointing night for the Russian side. His inch perfect free kick even drew his side briefly level with the Gunners before the floodgates opened.
Golovin, along with Ahmed Musa, created CSKA's best chances of the match and at 21-years-old it is clear that he is the future of the club. CSKA may perform better in front of their home crowd, and Golovin could perhaps inspire a comeback in this tie.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan damaged his medial knee ligament in the first leg and is expected to miss the rest of the season. If Arsenal were to make the Europa League final, there is a chance that the Armenian could return in time for that.
Danny Welbeck will be expected to replace Mkhitaryan in the starting lineup. Petr Cech will continue in goal with David Ospina still a few weeks away from a return from ankle injury.
After being rested over the weekend, Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, and Alexandre Lacazette will all be expected to start.
For CSKA, Kirill Nababkin could return after missing the first leg through suspension. Viktor Vasin and Astemir Gordyushenko will be sidelined until the summer with knee ligament injuries. Mario Fernandes could just miss out through a hamstring problem.
Potential CSKA Moscow Starting Lineup: Akinfeev; A. Berezutski, Ignashevich, V. Berezutski; Kuchaev, Dzagoev, Natcho, Golovin, Nababkin; Wernbloom, Musa
Potential Arsenal Starting Lineup: Cech; Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Ramsey, Xhaka; Ozil, Wilshere, Welbeck; Lacazette
Arsenal will do well to replicate the goal fest they enjoyed in the first leg when they travel to the VEB Arena. CSKA Moscow's fans are known for creating a loud and intimidating atmosphere. Earlier in the competition, the club's ultras set fire to the stands with flares and other pyrotechnics when they played Red Star Belgrade.
The Gunners will not have the cozy and quiet Emirates Stadium to play in on Thursday and have really struggled away from home this season. Arsenal will need to be careful as their opponents managed to grab an away goal in the first leg.
It is unlikely that we will see a huge capitulation from the Gunners, and with so many first team players rested over the weekend, it seems that Arsene Wenger is on a war path to win the Europa League. If Arsenal score on Thursday night, their place in the semi finals will be almost certain.
Prediction: CSKA Moscow 1-2 Arsenal