Never has a Europa league game come at such an inconvenient time and under such testing circumstances.
Arsenal’s weekend clash with neighbours and rivals Spurs is foremost in the minds of supporters but before that, there’s the little matter of consolidating the top slot in the Group E match with Vorskla Poltava.
4th in the Ukrainian premier league and sounding like a cross between a drink and a dance, Arsenal had previously beaten their hosts 4-2 at the Emirates back in September.
Notice if you will, that the score line was well contested by the gunners opponents.
The backdrop to this match is one of tension, turmoil and unrest due to Russia’s escalating row over Ukrainian ships in the Crimea.
This has caused UEFA to move the location of the match from the Stadion Vorskla in Poltava to Kiev’s Olympic stadium, a mere 185 miles east of the capital.
Which is like swapping one ill-equipped, foreboding ground for another. When I first saw pictures of the opponents ground, one could be forgiven for thinking that it wasn’t finished and it looks even worse when you consider it’s been minus 13 of late.
Brave traveling fans are not only having to deal with those low temperatures but also a diplomatic crisis as they are forced to adjust their travel plans.
It’s certainly not for the feint hearted and about 500 fans are expected to make the effort to support Emery’s men.
Things are so bad in the Ukrainian that martial law has been declared in many regions and after the switch was announced, it was even intimated that Vorskla Poltava wouldn’t play in the fixture.
Arsenal have their own battles to concentrate on and with the festive season about to descend and complicate an already congested fixture list further, sacrifices have to be made to keep the side on track.
That may disappoint some but would you rather thrash Vorskla Poltava and lose to Spurs or give a good account in the Ukraine and hammer the old rivals ?
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves but Emery has to spread the load and it’s likely that the Arsenal side could be comprised of three or four old sages, with an injection of the fresh, aspiring academy faces, which so much has been lauded this term.
Arsenal’s mentality will be tested against a backdrop of international drama at a new location and with reputations at stake.
The change in stadia has actually removed any psychological advantages that Vorskla Poltava may have thought they had and the current climate may be an unwelcome distraction for the away from home/home side as much as their visitors.
It’s not quite as hostile as a Derby game but it’s trying it’s best to appear so.
Emery will have to consider his selection extremely carefully because of the threat of Vorskla’s strikers.
Mykhaylo Serhiychuk,Yuriy Kolomiyets and Vladislav Kulach have 23 goals between them and if Arsenal want to indulge themselves in the notion that this game is a formality, it may spell trouble.
Tyreece John-Jules, Emile Smith Rowe and Eddie Nketiah are just a few of the names in the squad and it’s likely that Joe Willock, Charlie Gilmore and Jordon Osei-Titu will also be involved in some capacity.
For Nketiah, this may be a crucial trip.
The young forward is certainly a talented prospect but these opportunities in the forward position are rare, so he needs to turn on the tap and show his worth.
Ultimately, a draw is satisfactory but a defeat less welcome, as the pressure begins to mount on the verge of a month that many regard as Arsenal’s annual meltdown period.
With everything going on. It’s either going to be a tiring, goalless grind or if Arsenal manage to get on top, an assertive final flourish.
I’d go with the first option and for those about to complain about not playing a full strength side, Emery, is a man who knows how to play this particular competition to the max.
The Spaniard is aware of the importance of this weekends almighty dust up and despite what Joe Cole says, it’s the hottest ticket in the capital.