Arsenal's Mesut Ozil to start vs. Ostersund as Wenger eyes trophy
OSTERSUND, Sweden -- Mesut Ozil will start for Arsenal in Thursday's Europa League tie at Ostersund as manager Arsene Wenger backs up his pledge to play a strong team.
Wenger brought close to a full-strength squad to Sweden, with goalkeeper Petr Cech, defender Laurent Koscielny and midfielder Jack Wilshere the only available players left at home.
The Gunners are without the injured Alexandre Lacazette and Aaron Ramsey, while striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is cup-tied.
The Europa League now appears to represent their best chance of qualifying for the Champions League.
Wenger rested nearly all his Premier League starters for most of the group stage but is under increasing pressure to win the trophy, with a top-four Premier League finish looking unlikely.
"We go into direct knockout so of course the risk is higher," he told a news conference. "We are ambitious in the competition as well.
"So yes, we are more experienced than we were before. He [Ozil] will play tomorrow. We want to do well in this competition.
"We played on Saturday, we play tomorrow night. Over the weekend we have no game. So we have one week without competition. It's important our players keep at the competitive level."
Koscielny was rested amid fears his Achilles problem could flare up on Ostersund's artificial pitch in sub-zero temperatures, while Wilshere struggled with an illness last week.
However, Wenger was downbeat when asked about the groin injury that ruled Ramsey out of Saturday's 1-0 derby loss at Tottenham.
"It is a little bit of a sensitive case because I expected him to be a bit further in his development of the groin problem and he doesn't move forward as quickly as I expect it," the manager said.
"Today I would say that certainly he will not be available even for the [return leg] against Ostersund."
With Lacazette and Aubameyang both unavailable, Danny Welbeck is set to start up front after recently returning from an injury.
He has mainly played behind the striker this season but Wenger said his best position was at centre-forward, adding: "It is where I believe that he has an opportunity to do well.
"He had to wait a little bit to get back in the team but that gave him time to work on his fitness and from what I have seen today he is sharper than [for] a long time."
The game will be played in temperatures expected to be a few degrees below freezing, but Wenger said he was more worried about the artificial surface.
"We have to adapt quickly because we never practice on this kind of pitch but our technical level should help us to adapt quickly," he added.
"The temperature at the moment I don't find a big difference with London, so I don't think the temperature will be a big problem."
Wenger praised Ostersund's English coach Graham Potter, who has led the team from Sweden's fourth tier to European competition since taking over in 2010.
"I watched them play on tape and they play very well, a very attractive game," he said. "He has done a great job here and I believe they play in a very intelligent way, a very technical way that is very suited to the pitch.
"On these kind of pitches, you have to be very technical and it is a good side."
Mattias is ESPN FC's Arsenal correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @MattiasKaren.