AFC Bournemouth will be hoping to build on their 1-1 draw with Wolves when they meet Premier League rivals Arsenal at Emirates Stadium on Wednesday.
Arsenal v AFC Bournemouth
Wednesday 27 February
Premier League, 7.45pm
Understandably, Arsenal fans crave for the days the names of Juventus, Bayern Munich and Barcelona return to their fixture list, replacing the likes of Vorskla Poltava, FK Qarabag Agdam and FC Bate Borisov.
Starved of Champions League action for the past two seasons, the Gunners are embroiled in a fascinating battle for what looks to be a three-horse race for the final qualification berth.
Unai Emery’s team moved into fourth place following Sunday’s 2-0 win over Southampton, leapfrogging Manchester United who dropped to fifth after drawing 0-0 with Liverpool.
With the Red Devils visiting Emirates Stadium next month, Arsenal’s fate could be in their own hands.
But since beating the Cherries at Vitality Stadium in November, the Gunners have won just one of their past seven away games in the Premier League – 2-1 at bottom-placed Huddersfield 15 days ago.
Appointed as Arsene Wenger’s successor in May 2018, Emery’s reign started with back-to-back defeats at the hands of Manchester City and Chelsea in the top flight.
However, their aim of improving on sixth and fifth-place finishes in the past two seasons received a boost in the shape of a 14-match unbeaten league run, which included 10 wins.
But the form of the teams above them left the Gunners outside the top four and 11 points behind leaders Liverpool when the run came to an end following a 3-2 defeat at Southampton in December.
Victory over Southampton in the return fixture had been preceded by an inconsistent series of results in the Premier League, which included three defeats and a draw since Boxing Day.
Having secured a place in the last 16 of the Europa League by defeating Bate Borisov last week, their fixture schedule will continue to be unrelenting.
And while they only have two of the top six left to play – with Tottenham next in line after the Cherries – trips to Leicester, Watford, Everton and Wolves could prove decisive in the final reckoning.
With Champions League qualification so critical to the Gunners, the prospect of missing out for a third season on the trot is almost unthinkable to fans of the North London club.
LAST TIME OUT
Arsenal 2-0 Southampton
First-half goals from Alexandre Lacazette and Henrikh Mkhitaryan saw the Gunners move back into the top four of the Premier League at the expense of struggling Southampton on Sunday.
Lacazette was on hand to turn in Mkhitaryan’s shot after just six minutes, the Frenchman’s 13th goal of the season.
And the hosts doubled their lead when Mkhitaryan drilled a shot into the bottom corner 11 minutes later as Unai Emery’s team climbed above Manchester United following their 0-0 draw with Liverpool.
Emery said: “I thought we deserved to win. We got the chances, we played very well and I thought we could have done more to make a difference to the result in the final 20 minutes of the first half.
“The second half was maybe an under-performance from the first, but I thought we also deserved another goal.
“It’s difficult to keep the intensity for 90 minutes but the most important thing is the three points.
"It’s a good step and it’s game by game. We are happy in this position at the moment and we carry on."
2018-19 TOP SCORER
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (18 goals in all competitions)
Spaniard Unai Emery was appointed Arsenal head coach in May 2018 after Arsene Wenger had stepped down following 22 years as manager at the North London club.
Having progressed through the youth ranks at Real Sociedad, Emery, a midfielder, made five appearances in La Liga for the first team and played 89 times for their reserves in Spain’s second tier.
He also represented Toledo, Racing Ferrol and Leganes before a serious knee injury sustained playing for Lorca Deportiva CF forced him to retire in 2004, aged 32.
Emery was immediately appointed manager at Lorca Deportiva CF and guided them to promotion to the second tier in his first season.
Lorca missed out on a place in La Liga by five points the following season before Emery took over at Almeria in 2006, overseeing their promotion to the top flight for the first time in their history at the first attempt.
Emery spent four years in the hot-seat at Valencia, guiding them to three successive third-place finishes before departing for a brief spell in Russia with Spartak Moscow.
He took over at Sevilla midway through 2012/13 and won the Europa League in each of his three full seasons there, earning a move to Paris Saint-Germain in the summer of 2016.
PSG won both domestic cups in each of Emery’s first two seasons in France before he led them to a domestic quadruple, which included the Ligue 1 title in 2017/18.
- Callum Wilson netted the Cherries’ only goal at Emirates Stadium, the striker scoring from the penalty spot in a 3-1 defeat in November 2016.
- Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (15) trails Sergio Aguero (17) and Mohamed Salah (17) by two goals in the race for the Premier League golden boot.
- Before locking horns in the Premier League, the Cherries and the Gunners had only met once – Harry Redknapp’s team losing 3-0 at Highbury in the League Cup in October 1987.
- Arsenal hold the record for the longest uninterrupted run in the top flight of English football, a sequence which started in 1919.
- Gunners goalkeeper Leno has kept three clean sheets in 21 appearances in the Premier League this season, Artur Boruc has kept two in five.
- When Eddie Howe took over as permanent manager of the Cherries in January 2009, Arsenal were fifth in the Premier League and Tottenham were bottom. The Cherries were 10 points adrift of safety in League Two.
- Jordon Ibe scored his first goal for the Cherries in the 2-1 victory against Arsenal at Vitality Stadium in January 2018.
- Arsenal battled back from 3-0 down to force a 3-3 draw with the Cherries in January 2017, the only time they have come back from such a deficit in the Premier League to take a point against any opponents.