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Spurs have some work to do
By Peter Auf der Heyde
While Premier League clubs Arsenal and
Leicester City have made sure of a place in the knock-out stage of the Europa
League, Tottenham Hotspur still have some work ahead of them.
Going into the penultimate matchday this
week, Spurs are second in Group J ahead of their away trip to Austria for their
match against LASK. Like Antwerp, Jose Mourinho’s team have nine points, but
are behind their rivals based on the head-to-head result.
LASK are on six points, but as they lost
the away leg in England 3-0, they have to win to have a chance to overtake
Spurs go into the game on the back of a
morale-boosting goalless draw at Chelsea in the league – a result that boosts
their title aspirations.
The two other Premier League teams left in
the competition - Arsenal and Leicester – are already assured of a place in the
knock-out stage of the competition and can afford to give some of their regular
players a break.
The Gunners, who have won all of their four
matches in Group B, have a six point lead from Molde and Rapid Vienna, whom
they welcome to the Emirates Stadium.
As they are guaranteed of at least
finishing second in the group, Mikel Arteta, who has been giving some of his
star players like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang a rest in the competition, is bound
to give even more bit-players a place in the squad.
One player who is looking forward to
getting a chance is their record signing Nicolas Pépé, who has to sit out a
three-match domestic suspension after being red-carded for head-butting an
The right winger, who joined Arsenal from
Lille in August 2019, started in Arsenal’s 3-0 win in Molde and scored one of
the goals. After being criticised for the red card, Arteta praised him for his
performance against Molde.
could see from the first minute, from his body language, that he was ready to
act. We all know where his level is. All the time the question is how often he
can get to that level. [The match against Molde] is the example. That is the
level he needs to hit, and from there he needs to keep improving because he is
capable of doing it.”
Arsenal’s record in the Europa League has
been impressive and their record over the last three season reads: Semi-final,
runners-up and round of the last 32.
It is a record they wish to continue.
For Leicester, meanwhile, participation in
the Europa League is new.
They have done remarkably well and a
thrilling 3-3 draw in Braga last week ensured them a place in the round of the
last-32 ahead of their Group G game in Ukraine against Zorya Luhansk.
Like Arteta, Brendan Rodgers is in the
fortunate position that he can give some of his players a much-needed rest,
especially as they are playing the Europa League match just three days after
their domestic league game against Fulham.
The Europa League is yet another highlight
that African football fans will be able to see live and exclusively on the
StarTimes football channels as Africa’s leading digital-TV operator secured the
broadcasting rights for this prestigious competition.
Peter Auf der Heyde
Peter Auf der Heyde is an award-winning
football journalist and author, who covers the big European leagues. As a South
African by birth, he is particularly interested in the African connection
within European football and has covered 12 consecutive Africa Cup of Nations
tournaments live. Formerly head of sport at the English service of the German
Press Association, he is one of the leading Bundesliga experts.
Auf der Heyde played professionally for
Bosmont Chelsea in the South African top flight and now spends his time
migrating between South Africa, Germany and the UK.