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Domestic strugglers Arsenal eye Europa League last eight

Updated March 15, 2018

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MOSCOW: Atletico Madrid players take part in a practice session at the RZD Arena on Wednesday, ahead of their UEFA Europa League round-of-16 fixture against Lokomotiv Moscow.—Reuters
MOSCOW: Atletico Madrid players take part in a practice session at the RZD Arena on Wednesday, ahead of their UEFA Europa League round-of-16 fixture against Lokomotiv Moscow.—Reuters

LONDON: Struggling on the domestic front, Arsenal know that the Europa League represents their only shot at a trophy this season as they take a healthy 2-0 away lead into their round-of-16 tie against AC Milan in London on Thursday.

The Gunners are, however, sweating over the fitness of defender Shkodran Mustafi, who came off with a groin problem in their Premier League win over Watford at the weekend.

Midfielder Aaron Ramsey is set to return to the starting line-up, while Laurent Koscielny is also available in defence after being rested against Watford.

Milan, though, will take heart from a positive domestic run of four straight wins as they seek to upset the odds in England.

“We are in good physical condition and I like that,” coach Gennaro Gattuso said.

DORTMUND LOOK TO TURN AROUND DEFICIT

Borussia Dortmund know that two goals and a win are the minimum requirements for progression as they travel to Salzburg for their last-16 second leg.

The Germans suffered a surprise 2-1 loss at home in the first leg, which has left them little margin for error in Austria.

Though salvaging a Champions League spot from an erratic domestic campaign is a priority, Dortmund know that, with Bayern Munich 21 points ahead of them in the league, the Europa League represents their only chance of silverware this season.

They will be boosted by a heart-stopping 3-2 injury-time victory over Eintracht Frankfurt on Sunday.

A similar scoreline would be enough to take Dortmund through in Austria. But Dortmund’s Vienna-born coach Peter Stoeger knows that Salzburg — part of Red Bull’s cash-rich football empire — will make it very hard for his team.

“Expectations are extremely high here in Dortmund,” he said.

“The question is whether or not the boys can fulfil them. We’re going to need a really good performance in Salzburg.”

Salzburg are formidable opponents, who sit eight points clear in the Austrian Bundesliga having lost just one league game this season.

But they come into the Dortmund game on an uncharacteristic low after throwing away a two-goal lead to draw in their league game away to Mattersburg on Sunday.

ATLETICO TAKE COMMANDING LEAD TO RUSSIA

Atletico Madrid take a commanding 3-0 lead into their second leg against Lokomotiv Moscow, though they have various doubts ahead of their trip to Russia.

Kevin Gameiro has an abductor injury, Diego Costa a bruised ankle and keeper Jan Oblak a persistent groin problem.

Athletic Bilbao, 3-1 down from the first leg, have left-back Mikel Balenziaga doubtful for their clash with Marseille in San Mames, though midfielder Mikel Rico is back in contention after injury.

Definitely out are Iker Muniain through injury and Mikel San Jose and Raul Garcia through suspension.

Red Bull’s German franchise RB Leipzig take a slender 2-1 lead to St Petersburg to face Zenit, while Lazio travel to take on Dynamo Kiev, with the Ukrainians in the driving seat following a 2-2 draw in Rome.

In the other ties, Sporting Lisbon travel to Czech Republic looking to capitalise on their 2-0 first-leg win over Viktoria Plzen and Lyon hope to defend a 1-0 scoreline at home to CSKA Moscow.

Published in Dawn, March 15th, 2018