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Laurent Koscielny to Start for Arsenal vs. Qarabag in Achilles Injury Return

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistDecember 12, 2018

PORTSMOUTH, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 04: Laurent Koscielny of Arsenal battles for possession with Brett Pitman of Portsmouth during the Checkatrade Trophy match between Portsmouth and Arsenal U21 at Fratton Park on December 04, 2018 in Portsmouth, England. (Photo by Alex Burstow/Getty Images)
Alex Burstow/Getty Images

Arsenal are "planning" to start Laurent Koscielny for the UEFA Europa League group match against Qarabag at the Emirates Stadium on Thursday.

Head coach Unai Emery revealed the plans as he attempts to juggle his squad amid a spate of injuries at the back. It would mean a first start for French centre-back Koscielny since May, when he withdrew from the second leg of Arsenal's Europa League semi-final defeat to eventual tournament winners Atletico Madrid.

The Gunners have already qualified as winners of Group E, but Emery is still keen to get the returning Koscielny back up to speed quickly. He told the Press Association (h/t the Guardian) "it is in our planning to start with Laurent Koscielny. We are going to look also if he can play 90 minutes or less minutes in this game."

The need for Koscielny to prove he can last a full match will be key with Arsenal facing a particularly congested run of fixtures over the festive period. In addition to facing Qarabag, the Gunners return to Premier League action with an away trip to take on Southampton on Sunday, followed by Wednesday's north London derby against Tottenham Hotspur in the last eight of the Carabao Cup.

Koscielny hasn't started a senior game since May.
Koscielny hasn't started a senior game since May.Paul White/Associated Press

Emery wants to judge if Koscielny can play against the Saints, and he'll likely base his decision on how the 33-year-old performs against Qarabag. It's an important acid test since Emery's options at centre-back have been thinned considerably recently.

Rob Holding was lost for the season after he suffered a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament during a recent 2-2 draw away to Manchester United. Shkodran Mustafi then injured his hamstring as Arsenal beat Huddersfield Town 1-0 on Saturday, while Sokratis Papastathopoulos is suspended for Thursday.

The injuries afford the chance for young players to impress. However, 21-year-old Konstantinos Mavropanos continues to deal with a groin problem, while academy prospect Zech Medley is just 18 and only made his senior debut when he came off the bench in the 3-0 win away to Vorskla last time out in the Europa League.

Inexperience and injuries haven't deterred Emery, who remains confident he can find solutions to Arsenal's growing casualty list in defence: "We can use another player in this position, someone like Nacho Monreal, who is also with us and in his career he played in this position."

Injuries to Holding and Mustafi have left Arsenal short defensively.
Injuries to Holding and Mustafi have left Arsenal short defensively.ADRIAN DENNIS/Getty Images

Left-back Nachoย Monreal has played in the middle before, while fellow full-backs Stephan Lichtsteiner and Carl Jenkinson can also be moved centrally.

However, makeshift centre-backs aren't ideal solutions, especially since Emery has favoured playing three at the back in recent matches. Ideally, Koscielny will show he's made both a quick and complete recovery.

Much will depend on how well his treatment has gone, with the former Lorient man working with Football Yoga instructor Sharon Heidaripour during his recovery, according to Tom Sheen of The Sun.

If he's fully fit, Koscielny will immediately improve what has been a shaky defence. He has lost some pace, but he can still read the game as well as any defender and remains a solid presence in the air at both ends of the pitch.

The two-time FA Cup winner was deemed fit enough to be on the bench for the visit of Huddersfield. Koscielny had been working in the U23 side before Saturday, and he gave the Gunners a scare recently:

Layth @laythy29

Sad to see Laurent Koscielny hobble off the pitch to be replaced by Nathan Tomey with around 10 minutes left. Let's hope it isn't too serious for the experienced Arsenal centre-back https://t.co/XmzHEbfvOM

Fortunately, Koscielny was later deemed unscathed and can now provide Arsenal with a timely boost as the squad gears up for key battles in several competitions.

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