Thursday's Europa League action includes AC Milan v Arsenal, where George Pitts is predicting another tough night for Arsene Wenger.
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AC Milan v Arsenal (BT Sport 2, 1800 GMT)
Arsenal’s hopes of playing in the Champions League essentially rest on their Europa League campaign, so their first-leg round of 16 clash with AC Milan is vital.
In the midst of a crisis, it comes at a bad time for Arsene Wenger’s side. They have lost four matches in a row in all competitions, with a Gunners fans’ group majority voting for his departure and reported issues with team spirit within the squad.
Arsenal, who lost the Carabao Cup final to Manchester City last month, are out of the FA Cup and sixth in the Premier League, 13 points behind rivals in Tottenham.
It means they must win the Europa League in order to qualify for Europe’s top competition next season – and they face a tough task to beat the Serie A giants, who are yet to lose in 2018, over two legs.
Gennaro Gattuso’s side play hosts in the first leg, which could play slightly to Arsenal’s advantage. A goal or two, win or draw, will be a good result for the Gunners to take back to the Emirates for next Wednesday’s second leg.
They must do so without club-record signing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who is ineligible, so Danny Welbeck is likely to lead the line with Alexandre Lacazette still sidelined.
With Mesut Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan behind him, the former Manchester United forward shouldn’t be short of service, although he comes up against a defence that has kept a clean sheet in six of their last seven fixtures.
The Rossoneri have improved considerably under Gattuso’s leadership and are now level on points with sixth-placed Sampdoria, eight behind Lazio in fourth.
Fabio Borini, formerly of Sunderland and Liverpool, has scored in his last two Europa League appearances and he is 7/2 to find the back of the net anytime.
They are understandably favourites to win at 6/5, which is still a great price considering their recent home record, and I think they will do the job and give Wenger’s Arsenal a mountain to climb in next week’s return leg in north London.
And the best of the rest…
Competition favourites Atletico have a favourable home tie with Lokomotiv Moscow, who are 20/1 to get the win at Wanda Metropolitano.
Diego Simeone’s side saw an eight-match winning run come to an end at the weekend as they lost at Barcelona. Atleti to win with over 2.5 goals in the game is just over evens, so better value lies elsewhere.
Antoine Griezmann has seven goals in his last three games and the Frenchman can be backed to score two or more here at 9/2 or evens to net anytime.
Diego Costa has two goals in his last four appearances and the former Chelsea man is 13/10 to bag anytime but Kevin Gameiro – who scored in both legs with Copenhagen in the previous round – could be worth backing at 11/8 in a score-and-win double.
Elsewhere, another European giant in Borussia Dortmund have a home game with Salzburg. Michy Batshuayi, who we successfully backed to score and win in the first leg of the last 32 has hit a dry spell after his promising start in Germany. He is a tempting 5/1 to score two or more against the Austrians while Dortmund are 23/20 to win with over 2.5 goals in the game.
Europa League round of 16 fixtures - March 8
AC Milan v Arsenal
Atletico Madrid v Lokomotiv Moscow
Borussia Dortmund v Salzburg
CSKA Moscow v Lyon
Lazio v Dynamo Kiev
Marseille v Athletic Bilbao
RB Leipzig v Zenit St Petersburg
Sporting Lisbon v Viktoria Plzen