Pre-Match Report

Preview: FC Zurich v Arsenal

Kybunpark Stadium in St. Gallen

With six games of the Premier League done and dusted, we kick off our 37th European campaign on Thursday when we head to Switzerland to face FC Zurich in our opening Europa League group stage fixture.

After missing out on continental action last term, we’re back for a fifth attempt at lifting the Europa League which will see us face Zurich, PSV Eindhoven and Bodo/Glimt in six games across eight weeks. 

It’ll be our first trip to the country since a 4-1 win at Basel in the Champions League back in December 2016, however we won’t be heading to Zurich, with the game taking place 54 miles away at St Gallen's Kybunpark due to staging conflicts.

Zurich’s pedigree

FC Zurich fans

Having recovered from a surprise relegation in 2017, Zurich have turned their fortunes around and claimed their 13th Swiss title last season by a 14-point margin, which was their first success in 13 seasons. 

They have also won 10 domestic cups, and have reached the semi-finals of the European Cup on two occasions back in 1964 and 1977. They featured in the group stage of the Champions League back in 2009/10, and this will be a fifth appearance in the Europa League group stage since then, with their most recent coming in 2018/19 when they reached the round of 32 before being beaten by Napoli.

Their season so far

FC Zurich celebrate beating Hearts

Despite last season’s success, manager Andre Breitenreiter departed in the summer for Hoffenheim, and was replaced by Franco Foda. He has yet to see his team win a league game in seven attempts, leaving them ninth in the 10-team Swiss Super League which kicked off in July.

As the reigning champions, Zurich initially entered the Champions League qualifiers but were defeated in the second round by Qarabag on penalties. They then dispatched Linfield and Hearts to book their spot in the Europa League group stage, meaning we will be the third-straight team they’ll face in European competition.

Their last game was on Saturday, which saw them lose at home to Lugano via a last-minute goal, which was their third-straight defeat on their own turf, while they saw 18-year-old Italian-capped striker Wilfried Gnonto join Leeds United on deadline day.

Current squad

Fc Zurich line up ahead of their game against Hearts

Perhaps the standout name in the Zurich squad is veteran midfielder Blerim Dzemaili, who was capped 69 times by Switzerland between 2006 and 2018 and played in two World Cups. He is back at the club where it all started, having initially departed in 2007 for a brief spell at Bolton Wanderers, before going on to represent Parma, Napoli and Galatasaray amongst others.

Defender Becir Omeragic is a current Swiss teammate of Granit Xhaka, while Ole Selnaes has played alongside Martin Odegaard for Norway and signed this summer, alongside former Rangers centre-back Nikola Katic.

Another player who has played in Scotland is Kosovo international striker Donis Avdijajl who had a short stint at Hearts, while goalkeeper and captain Yanick Brecher has been at the club for a decade. Benin international Tosin Aiyegun is the club’s top scorer this season with five goals in all competitions.

What the managers say

FC Zurich manager Franco Foda

Foda on us: "We're looking forward to this extraordinary game in front of a sold-out crowd against Arsenal tomorrow night. It will be important that we're compact defensively, but then, once we've got the ball, we play calmly and decisively. 

"A lot is possible in one game and we do everything we can to achieve the best possible result. Arsenal are extremely good at positional play and often have a lot of possession. We have to keep the gaps in width and depth small because the Gunners are also great at moving between the lines."

Arteta on Zurich: "The biggest danger is that, after the season they had last year, they haven’t got the results that they expected. You can see how willing they are to win football matches. This is a different competition, a different context and I expect a team that is going to be very ready tomorrow." - read everything from Mikel's pre-match press conference

Team news

Emile Smith Rowe against Manchester United

Emile Smith Rowe has not travelled with the squad after struggling with injury for the past couple of weeks - find out more

We will also be missing Mohamed Elneny (hamstring) and Thomas Partey (thigh), as well as Reiss Nelson who has been out with a muscle injury.

Ukrainian under-21 international striker Bohdan Vyunnyk and Antonio Marchesano are doubtful for the hosts, while young left-back Ilan Sauter is definitely out..

Facts and stats

Eddie Nketiah celebrates against Sevilla

We have won all six of our matches to date against Swiss opposition, though we will face Zurich for the first time.

After losing just one of their first 11 home matches in the Europa League, Zurich have since lost their last two home matches in the competition.

We have won 75% of our 24 group stage matches in the Europa League. Of the 94 teams to have participated in the group stages of this competition on at least three previous occasions, only Zenit have a better win rate (79%).

Zurich have won three of their 10 matches against English opponents in Europe (L7), although all three victories came in home matches, most recently beating Aston Villa 2-0 in the Intertoto Cup in July 2002.

Eddie Nketiah has scored in the last two games he started in the Europa League; he could become the fifth Englishman to score in three consecutive starts in the competition, after Bobby Zamora, Jermain Defoe, Harry Kane and James Tavernier.

Match officials

Mohammed Al-Hakim

Swedish referee Mohammed Al-Hakim is the man in the middle for this game, who has been a professional match official since 2008, overseen top-flight matches for a decade and has been on the FIFA list since 2015. He also works part-time as an officer in the Swedish Armed Forces.

  • Referee: Mohammed Al-Hakim
  • Assistant Referee 1: Fredrik Klyver
  • Assistant Referee 2: Robin Wilde
  • Fourth Official: Bojan Pandzic
  • VAR: Rob Dieperink
  • Assistant VAR: Edwin van der Graaf

Last time in Switzerland

Our last competitive game in the country came in the 2016/17 Champions League campaign, where we faced FC Basel and ran out 4-1 victors.

Lucas Perez netted a hat-trick before Alex Iwobi added a fourth on 53 minutes to ensure we finished top of the group ahead of Paris St Germain, on a night that saw Granit Xhaka play against his brother Taulant.

The two other survivors from that squad were Rob Holding, who played the whole game, and Elneny who came on for the last 20 minutes.

Breakdown Live

Breakdown Live

Nicole Holliday and Adrian Clarke will be presenting our pre-match show, who will be taking a look back at Europa League campaigns gone by. 

Max Jones and Jeremie Aliadiere are our commentary team out in St Gallen, and we’ll check in with them to see what the atmosphere is like for the Gooners in Switzerland.

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