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The Arsenal squad flew out to Azerbaijan this morning ahead of our Europa League clash with FC Qarabag on Thursday night and there were a few surprise players on the plane.
We kicked off the group stages with a 4-2 victory over FC Vorskla last month and are expected to breeze in to the knockout phase after being drawn in a favourable group that also includes Qarabag and Sporting Lisbon.
Unai Emery is likely to use the competition to give some of his fringe players a chance with the likes of Stephan Lichtsteiner, Rob Holding, Mohamed Elneny, Alex Iwobi and Danny Welbeck all starting against Vorskla while youngsters Emile Smith Rowe and Eddie Nketiah were named on the bench.
With a tricky away trip to Fulham coming up on Sunday the boss was expected to rest his key players tomorrow night and save them from the gruelling 5,000 mile round trip to Azerbaijan.
However, Emery has included some surprise names in the squad as Mesut Ozil, Alexandre Lacazette, Sokratis, Granit Xhaka, Lucas Torreira, Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal were all among the players who boarded the plane today.
There was no sign of Aaron Ramsey and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang so they may have been left back in north London but the rest of the first team seem to have travelled which is a big surprise.
The likes of Ozil, Monreal and Lacazette may not start tomorrow as Sead Kolasinac, Matteo Guendouzi and Eddie Nketiah were also in the travelling squad but it’s still a surprise that Emery’s made them undertake the long-haul trip.
I would have preferred to see our big guns all rested ahead of the Fulham game but it looks like Emery doesn’t want to take too many chances against Qarabag and may want to get qualification secured as quickly as possible to perhaps rest key men later in the group stages.
Here are some photos of the players leaving the airport today: