Unai Emery has confirmed Arsenal captain Laurent Koscielny will make his long-awaited comeback against Qarabag on Thursday night – with Mesut Ozil also set to feature in the Europa League dead rubber.
Koscielny, 33, has yet to play under Emery having ruptured his Achilles in the Europa League semi-final defeat to Atletico Madrid in May.
The defender missed France’s World Cup success as he battled back to fitness and featured for 85 minutes in a Checkatrade Trophy clash with Portsmouth last week.
Koscielny is now set to start against Azerbaijani minnows Qarabag as Emery tests his fitness ahead of a Premier League return.
The Gunners have a defensive crisis on their hands ahead of Sunday’s trip to Southampton with Rob Holding and Konstantinos Mavropanos injured, Shkodran Mustafi struggling with a hamstring problem and Sokratis Papastathopoulos suspended.
That could mean Koscielny will be asked to play twice in four days as Emery prepares to welcome back his skipper.
“Our first aim in this competition, we have done, which was to be first in the group,” the Spaniard said when asked about his team selection with progression as group winners already assured.
“But we respect this competition and we respect Qarabag and tomorrow our objective is to win and we are going to give players chances tomorrow to take responsibility, take rhythm and take confidence.
“Also, because we are going to play a lot of matches, in the next 10 days we play four matches – each of them very important…it is in our planning to start with Laurent Koscielny.
“We are going to decide after tomorrow’s match, as it’s the first match with us that Laurent Koscielny will play. We are going to look also if he can play 90 minutes or less minutes in this game.
“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.
“We are going to decide but the first is to think about the match tomorrow because we need to receive information on how he can feel tomorrow.”
Meanwhile, Ozil has missed the last five games in all competitions having initially dropped out of the side at Bournemouth before being ruled out with a back injury.
He could also be in line to play against Qarabag having lost his place in Emery’s Premier League side.
“I don’t know,” Emery replied when asked if Ozil would feature.
“Tomorrow he is in the group, there are 18 players in the squad for this match and I am going to decide if he plays tomorrow from the beginning or during the match in the 90 minutes.”
- Press Association