Paul Merson makes prediction for Arsenal’s crunch Slavia Prague clash and wants Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to start

Aubameyang was dropped for the first leg against Slavia last week
Aubameyang was dropped for the first leg against Slavia last week (Picture: Getty Images)

Paul Merson has backed Arsenal to beat Slavia Prague on Thursday to book their place in the Europa League semi-finals and wants to see captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang back in the starting line-up.

The Gunners missed multiple chances and conceded a late goal as they were frustratingly held to a 1-1 draw with the Czech side in the first leg of their quarter-final tie at the Emirates last week.

With Mikel Arteta’s side currently in ninth place in the Premier League table, the Europa League remains their only chance of silverware as well as a possible route back into the Champions League.

Merson thinks Arteta's side will get past Slavia Prague
Merson thinks Arteta’s side will get past Slavia Prague (Picture: Getty Images)

And Arsenal hero Merson believes his former side will get the job done in Prague in what is a must-win game for Arteta.

‘It is a big game [against Slavia], but at the end of the day you can only play with the hand you are dealt,’ Merson told Sky Sports. There are a lot of players who are there before he [Arteta] was there, and I feel for him in a way as they are so up and down.

‘They should have finished the game against Slavia last week, the chances they missed and Alexandre Lacazette’s is an absolute sitter when he hit the bar, it is ridiculous.

‘They are 10th in the league and this is Arsenal, let’s not forget. I would not say get rid of Arteta if they lost this game, though, not a chance.

‘But I think they win this game, there is a lot of turning around there, but they have to start getting a plan, a five-year plan. This will not happen overnight, this needs to start now because at the moment they are relying on Bukayo Saka, who is their go-to man, and Emile Smith Rowe when he plays. And no disrespect, that should not be the case.’

Aubameyang, who has endured a difficult season since signing a bumper new contract in September, was benched for the first leg against Slavia Prague and then missed last weekend’s 3-0 victory over Sheffield United due to illness.

The 31-year-old faces a late fitness test ahead of Arsenal’s crunch Europa League tie on Thursday, but should he be available, Merson thinks he must play.

‘Something is going on with Aubameyang, though, I do not know what it is,’ he added. ‘Last Thursday was the biggest game Arsenal have played in for a long time, you have to weigh it up now as there have not been crowds in for a year or so because of lockdown. Arsenal need European football next season, they need to come back, hit the ground running when the fans are back and there needs to be a feel-good factor.

‘It is not cheap watching Arsenal and for the standards of the team, it is expensive. It was their biggest game last Thursday and their biggest earner and name was sitting on the bench.

‘So that tells you everything and it is another Ozil situation…

‘If I need to win a football match and I know I will get chances there – I might not get many, but they will get chances Arsenal – I need my best goalscorer on the pitch.

Slavia Prague v Arsenal: Mikel Arteta press conference

‘If he does not bring anything else to the party, he will put the ball in the back of the net. And even if he is four yards out and he taps it in, that is what you call a good goal because no one else is there to tap it in, he is the one there. He finds himself at the back post tapping them in and there is an art to that.

‘So for me, he plays, as they have to win. You have to get your goalscorers on the pitch when you have to win. If you do not have to win and you are protecting the lead, then you do not have him in the team as you want people tracking back for the team.

‘So I take a chance, I have to play my star man – we only gave him a new contract last season, so what has changed?

‘I like Lacazette, he is a good footballer, he holds the ball up and brings players into the game, he is decent.

‘And I would play him up front alongside Aubameyang with three in attack with Saka or Nicolas Pepe and say to them, ‘just get us a goal, we will defend’ and they will cause havoc.’

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