Match Preview/ Lineup – All You Need to Know About Slavia Prague

Slavia Prague: the next opponent on our road to the 2nd EL final in 3 years

Arsenal’s bid to reach a second UEFA Europa League final in three seasons continues against a Slavia Praha side who have already eliminated two other British clubs on their way to the quarter-finals. Czech opponents are rare to come by in the later stage of European competitions, but this is far from the first time to visit Prague. In fact, we have played against clubs from the Czech Republic – all in the beautiful capital city of Prague – but mostly (6 games) against their local rival Sparta Praha. We met Slavia Prague once already (literally 2 games in the Champions League in 2007/2008) and we have nice memories from the first game… but let’s not go there so quickly. This post is not primarily about Arsenal, but our next EL opponent, Slavia.

Club history

Slavia is one of the most renowned and successful clubs in the history of the Czech Republic. It is located in Prague, and has been playing in the Czech top tier. They are a big-time sports club there as they have decorated teams in hockey, basketball and rugby as well under the same name: Slavia Prague.

Their closest rival and arch nemesis is AC Sparta Praha – the most successful club in the local history – but they were crowned Czech champions last time in 2010, while Slavia came up first 3 times in the last 4 years. So the supporters of our current opponent believe that the trend is about to turn maybe in this very decade.

While Sparta Praha was named in the fond memory of the bravery and fighting spirit of the ancient Greek polis Sparta, Slavia Prague focused the recollection to the people inhabiting the region from 1500 years (Slavs have been populating almost entire Central-Estern Europe – apart from Hungary – for a long time: from Ukraine to Slovenia, from Poland to Bulgaria, from Slovakia to Russia, from Macedonia to the Czech Republic). The club was named SK Slavia Praha in 1893 – 1 year after its founding – and been called different versions of this name except for the 1949-1965 period.

The club’s colours, red and white, were chosen as standing for the heart/blood and sportsmanship (fair play) respectively. Therefore the team plays its home games in a red and white jersey – another red & white team after Benfica and Olympiacos, and hopefully one more in the Gdansk final: Ajax. There is a tilted red star in the logo as well, it represents the traditions and history of club and country as well as new hope, forever strengthening the mind and uplifting the spirit.

Stadium and legends

Slavia plays its home games in their own stadium called Eden Aréna which was renovated between 2006 and 2008. While the supporters still informally refer to the place as Eden (the reference to the garden of eden is applicable in the Czech language too) the stadium has undergone a few name changes in the last decade, eventually called to Sinobo Stadium when CITIC Group, a Chinese – state owned (!) – real estate company saved the club from bankruptcy and became majority shareholders.

The stadium was refurbished for 1B koronas (~€30M) 15 years ago, therefore it is the biggest and most modern stadium in the Czech Republic. It has a capacity of 19.370 seats, and besides Slavia Prague occasionally  acts as home venue for the Czech national team (In the 2011-2012 season FC Viktoria Plzen played their home games in the Champions League group stage).

The highest profile game played here was the UEFA Super Cup final in August, 2013 when CL winner Bayern Munich beat EL holder Chelsea on penalties (after 1:1 and 2:2 a.e.t). The Czech national team defeated England for the 2020/2021 UEFA Euro qualifying in October, 2019 – Kane’s 5th min penalty was responded by Brabec (9’) and Ondrášek (85’).

When thinking about the player who scored the most goals of their life people usually guess Romario, Puskás or C. Ronaldo, but that might not be accurate. Legendary Josef “Pepi” Bican was born in Vienna in 1913 and became one of the best football players of 20th century. He played for Slavia between 1937 and 1948 and after his spell in Vítkovice returned to red and white in 1953 for four more years. He scored 447 league goals. He is probably the football’s leading goalscorer of all time. It is said he scored close to 1,500 goals in total during his days, other sources claim above 1800 (yet he still is 2nd when all unofficial goals are accounted). http://www.rsssf.com/players/prolific.html

Another player worth mentioning is Pavel Kuka, icon of 1. FC Kaiserslautern and Slavia Prague. He was also a key player of the Czech national team winning a silver medal at the 1996 European Championship and coming third at the Confederation Cup a year after. He may have not reached such stardom as Bican or Poborsky (played a single year for Slavia), but his name Kuka – which incidentally is the Hungarian name of Dopey, the 7th dwarf – made him an instant favorite among Hungarian football lovers.

For fellow bloggers more knowledgeable in English football, Patrik Berger could be the notable mention as the cheeky attacking midfielder – between starting (4y) and ending (2y) his career at Slavia Prague – was German champion and cup winner with Borussia Dortmund, but is better known for his contributions (including his trademark long range rockets)  to Liverpool’s domestic and European success when he was playing his trade there between 1996 and 2003. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3zxic_esVo

Football results

Slavia Prague are 13-times Czechoslovakian champions, and won the Czech competition (after the 2 countries have split in 1993) 6 times already, including last year. They won the cup 9 times (4+5).

In Europe Slavia was runner up in the summer of 1930 when Swiss champion Servette organized a major tournament of top European clubs from Spain, Italy, Netherlands, etc. that is considered the ancestor of the European Champions’ Cup (forefather of UEFA’s Champions League). It is unofficial though since 4 countries (Belgium, France, Romania and Yugoslavia) didn’t take part as they participated in the World Cup in Uruguay. The tournament was won by Hungarian club Újpest who scored 14 and conceded only 1 in the entire tournament. Slavia Prague won the Mitropa Cup – a Central-European mini Champions League in 1938 ahead of runner-up Ferencváros. This tournament was officially called the La Coupe de l’Europe Centrale, the first recurring major European football cup and was held between 1927 and 1992. Slavia was runner-up in 1929.

In the mainstream European football the biggest success of Slavia was reaching the semi-final of the UEFA Europa League in 1996 (losing against future runner-up Bourdeaux), and they reached the quarter final 3 times: in 2000 they lost against Leeds, in 2019 they lost to future winner Chelsea and they are facing a huge challenge against us currently. J

In the Champions League Slavia Prague qualified to the group stage twice in their history. In the 2007-2008 season they came third – behind Arsenal and Sevilla – thus continued in the Europa League, and last year they were drawn in a hardcore group against FC Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund and Inter Milan, where they were eliminated (ended up last with 2 points), but their away draws at Barcelona and Milan are quite respectable performances.

This season Slavia started in the CL, but lost the play-off round against Danish champion Midtjylland. They were drawn to group C with Bayer Leverkusen, Hapoel Be’er Sheva and Nice (without Saliba) where they qualified for the knock-out stage by finishing 2nd in the group. They won all 3 home games and the away fixture in France.

In the first elimination round they met Leicester City whom they defeated in the second leg in the King Power Stadium after a 0:0 draw in Prague. Rangers had a similar fate, with the small adjustment of the 1:1 draw in the first leg, but they were also eliminated after a 0:2 home defeat. So basically after a strong home start in the group stage Slavia managed to overcome 2 strong UK teams by winning the 2nd leg away from home. The other notable difference is that they conceded 10 goals in the 6 games of the group phase, but only 1 in the 4 knock-out matches.

Slavia and Arsenal

Arsenal have played eight games against Czech opponents in Europe, winning seven, losing none, scoring 22 goals and conceding just two. The biggest win came against our current opponent Slavia in October, 2007, when Wenger’s men won by 7:0 thanks to braces from Fabregas, Hleb and Walcott (concluding a Bendtner wrap-up goal). Arsenal started the game in 4-4-2 with Almunia in goal, a Sagna-Toure-Gallas-Clichy defense, Eboue, Fabregas, Flamini and Hleb in midfield and Adebayor paired with Walcott in attack. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WhGq8lWqK-g Slavia general manager Stanislav Vlček played for the club in the 7-0 defeat at the Emirates.

The game in Prague ended 0:0, but our memories are rightfully fond. Yet we must respect the opponent. Not only for general sportsmanship reasons, but they have good footballers, even though star players (outgoing record transfer €20M) Tomáš Souček and Vladimír Coufal both joined Arsenal’s London rivals West Ham United from Slavia in 2020.

While Arsenal stands 10th in the PL with the form LDLWWD, Slavia Prague sits on top of the Czech championship with an excellent form of DWWWDW. Our opponent is a compact team with quality players (mostly on the wings and flanks), and they are full of confidence based on the domestic run and the impressive EL history this season, but they have limited experience in playing against teams of Arsenal’s caliber. Currently, both teams prioritize the Europa League; Arsenal because it’s the only way to play in Europe next season (and in the Champions League!), and Slavia because they have a massive 14 points advantage ahead of city rival Sparta Praha, having played only 2 games more. Even if Sparta wins both games in hand the remaining 8-point advantage should be more than comfortable with 9 matches remaining from the season.

Failing to score in their last game (vs Olympiakos), Arsenal ended an impressive record of scoring in 25 consecutive European matches. Hopefully we’ll get back to finding the net on Thursday.

Current players and predicted line-up

Not only Arsenal is injury-ridden, but Slavia Prague lost its star goalkeeper Ondrej Kolar 2 weeks ago (sinus fracture), as well as experienced (and gigantic) center back Simon Deli to coronavirus. Nevertheless they are strong on the wings, 19-year-old Abdallah Sima (already playing for the national team of Senegal) and Nigerian Peter Olayinka will put pressure on our full-backs. Their midfield is also quite capable, but due to injuries and inexperience I expect our boys to score a few goals as 20-year-old David Zima would be the most senior player in the Czech central defence (out of 5 CBs 3 are injured and 1 is ineligible in the EL).

Nevertheless their attacking 4-5 is quite dangerous (age, primary position and season goal contributions in brackets): Jan Kuctha (24, ST, 22), Abdallah Sima (19, LW, 25), €4M incoming record transfer Nicolae Stanciu (27, AM, 19), Lukas Provod (24, LW, 14) and Peter Olayinka (25, RW, 16) are not to be taken lightly.

I predict Slavia starting in 4-1-4-1 formation, with a possible line-up:

–––––––––––Kuchta–––––––––––

Olayinka–Stanciu–Provod––Sima–

––––––––––Hromada––––––––––

Boril©–––Zima–––Holes––––Bah–

–––––––––––Vagner–––––––––––

TA will provide the predicted Arsenal line-up below, but let me sign off with an interesting fact – and a possibility to screw one of our London rivals:

A maximum of five PL teams are eligible for the Champions League. If a Premier League club (Liverpool) wins the Champions League while another (Arsenal) wins the Europa League and neither finish in top 4 in the PL, the club lying fourth in the table (Chelsea/Spurs) will drop into Europa League.

Yours truly:

PB

Predicted Lineup (depending on fitness) by TA:

Luiz and KT are out, Ode is a doubt for the game, so ESR may replace him and Auba may then start too.

28 thoughts on “Match Preview/ Lineup – All You Need to Know About Slavia Prague

  • Many thanks for an incredible post, PB.

    You have done your homework well and have stuffed your post with great facts and insights.

    I will not take any opponent lightly at any time, and a team that has eliminated the Scottish Champions and an on-fire Leicester City already should definitely not be underestimated. We need to play at our best to get a good home result and I am hoping for a clean sheet…. it has been a while since we have had one of those!!

    Cheers again! 🙂

  • That was one hell of a good read, well done Peter…

    This blog easily has the best Arsenal pre-match posts anywhere, it’s a pleasure to be a part of it.
    If Slavia were formed in the year 1893 then that must mean that until 1918 they constituted a part of the football scene in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, I wonder if they played in any organised league there or were all the teams amateurs, playing friendlies as was mostly the case outside of Great Britain during that period?

    I remember that 7-0 thrashing, I was unwell at the time but that result was the best kind of medicine anyone could prescribe.

    If the prognosis of Kieran Tierney is correct and Arsenal get through to the final in Gdańsk then our star man should be available, even if the recovery time is nearer the 6 weeks rather than the 4 weeks, he could return for Crystal Palace and Brighton fingers crossed.

  • I’m not aware of Austro-Hungarian organized league, Kev. I assume back in the 1900′ football was more like a half-weird, half-exotic game that mostly the English played. Our football association was formed in 1902 and the first championship included 6 clubs only. Furthermore the monarchy was built upon the shared king, but there were really much cohesion and mutual culture among the nations. So I don’t think there was much organic need for a joint organized league – which happened only in form of a cup from 1927.

    Regarding the LB issue, there is a good argument for Soares and Bellerin on the flanks, but there is a slight chance that Arteta might consider reverting Saka to LB/LWB at least for the home leg. We have plenty of LW/RW cover (Martinelli, Willian, Pepe, Nelson), so my only counter-argument against it is that both Cedric and Hector deserve to play. But nevertheless let’s hope that Kieran returns as soon as possible to reach his peak form by the final.

  • The Hungarian Football Federation (Hungarian: Magyar Labdarúgó Szövetség or MLSZ), the sport’s national governing body, was founded in 1901. Hungary were regular features at major tournaments, such as the first Olympic Football Tournament (Stockholm 1912) and many FIFA World Cup.

    Football has been played in Austria since around 1890. Around the turn of the twentieth century two attempts were made to start a national championship. From 1900 onwards, a cup competition was played in Vienna, the Neues Wiener Tagblatt Pokal. This cup was actually played in league format.[2] The efforts to create a football league succeeded in 1911, with the introduction of the first Austrian football championship.

    Bohemia was an early adopter of football. In the Czech Republic, football originated in Bohemia between 1890 and 1990, mainly played by Germans (the country was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire). The best German club was called Regatta Prag. The first known football match in the Czech Republic occurred on the islet located in the Labe River in Roudnice nad Labem in 1887. In 1896 the first derby between SK Slavia Prague and AC Sparta Prague was disputed with the result of 0-1. In 1896, the first Czech championship, won by CFK Kickers Prague (spring) and Deutscher FC Prag (autumn) was disputed. In 1897 the Czech Crown championship was won, won by Slavia and in 1902 the Czech Football Association championship won by the Cesky AFC Vinohrady. Czechoslovak First League was the premier football league in the Czechoslovakia from 1925 to 1993.
    In 1901 the Czech Football Federation was created.

    From Wikipedia…

    So it seems Peter that each region of Austria-Hungary developed its own separate football authority and identity, that’s really interesting and something I never knew…

  • I suppose in that regard Austria-Hungary mirrored Great Britain and Ireland as in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland all being separate but a part of one country…

    I also didn’t know, thinking as I do as a Brit, that it would be England vs Scotland but that after Argentina vs Uruguay that Austria vs Hungary have actually played each other the most!

  • It is rediculously quiet 🤫 on here. Come on folks, let’s be having you. PB wrote a great post and we are playing a bloody quarter finals today?!! 🌋🌋🌋

  • There seems a good chance that Miguel Azeez could be in the Arsenal squad this evening, it would be fantastic if he was and also if we were that comfortable that Arteta brought him on…

  • I show you 2 great long range goals from Slavia’s record signing Nicolae Stanciu – both against Rangers from March. In “return” I expect not to see him scoring against us tonight. 🙂

  • Arsenal: Leno; Soares, Holding, Gabriel, Bellerin; Smith Rowe, Xhaka, Partey; Willian, Lacazette, Saka

    Subs: Ryan, Aubameyang, Azeez, Ceballos, Elneny, Hein, Lopez, Mari, Martinelli, Nelson, Nketiah, Pépé

    Slavia: Kolar; Bah, Holes, Zima, Boril; Hromada; Dorley, Stanciu, Provod, Olayinka; Sima

    Subs: Kovar, Kuchta, Lingr, Masopust, Sevcik, Stejskal, Tecl, Traoré, Visinsky

  • Very detailed preview, PB. And some fine insights too. The early reports are that Arteta has rested Odegaard as a precautionary measure, having suffered an ankle injury on international duty.

    Pepe and Auba have been (rightly, it must be said) relegated to the sub bench for this one. It looks like a game in which we would need every one on board and no passengers allowed; so, hopefully, it helps for Auba to come on from the bench, if needed. Otherwise, a good rest may do him some good.

  • Stanciu looks a good player and expectedly, our defenders have seen those clips too to know to be wary of him.

    Surely, we’ve got to win this and we’ll.

  • Rusty start but much better as game wnet on. Need more of Willian in the box but Saka is getting the ball into the box and if we sharpen up a bit we can score two or three in the second half.

  • Quiet and quite balanced first half, with 56%-44% ball possession and 1-1 shots on goal.
    Both teams are similar in a way that the defenders play well and the attackers poor, but at Arsenal I feel the midfielders are also playing well, while their Czech counterparts aren’t, but I may be biased.
    The biggest and nicest surprise is Holding, who plays well in defense and brave in transition, while the disappointing surprise is the painful impotence of the front 4: Smith-Rowe is hardly present (10 touches), Saka makes the wrong decision every time, Willian seems to continue his early season form, and Lacazette plays harmless, too.
    But we know they are all capable to shit a gear or two, so I expect them to come back hungry from the break. And while I would rather see a lot of goals scored tonight, even a 1:0 win would ease my mind as the boys will likely score in Prague, and hardly concede 3…

  • Lol. It was a bit tentative from both sides, especially our boys, being at home and needing to seize the initiative.

    The fact we are too cautious in itself is a signal that we are wary of the opposition and aren’t taking them lightly. A good sign, maybe; sometimes, the paranoid succeed.

    We need to step things up, for sure and since we have some hungry young lads on the bench, maybe Arteta should grow some and take the chance with one of them.

  • isnt that typical of Arsenal not sure how Cedric and Gab fumbled what should have been a routine clearance.

  • Ouch that hurts. Undeserved but we did ask for it the way we defended in those last ten minutes. Still all to play for, and it is better that we now at least need to score once, in terms of mindset and prep.

  • We certainly shit our pants in those last few minutes, terrible defending by Soares and Gabriel should have just launched it.

    Overall I’m afraid that that was a poor performance, Willian was simply dreadful, but it’s best I leave it for now as I’m seriously pissed off…

  • We just can’t catch a break with our defending, it would seem. How unlucky can we get? Now, I have to say things cannot be right in the dressing room seeing how nervous we get when it is crunch time.

    Gabriel does have a habit of cocking things up; this is like the 4th time this season that he’s made an error leading to a goal (or resulting in a goal against us). Where is the rock hard, decisive defender we got and loved, right before he went down with the virus and failed to return to that form?

    It is about confidence and we look like we’ve had enough this season. The boys doubt themselves now and clearly, Arteta has his work cut out for him. Team needs a psychologist or some confidence boosting results…..

  • As the focus shifts to that 2nd leg, just watch us drop points in the league. This is depressing.

  • What would it take Martnelli to get a full 90 mins or atleast half an hour as sub. He looked good today and might I say would have scored if he had more mins. I cannot understand the blind trust in Willian and not showing the same for Martnelli. Martnelli should leave Arsenal for his career. It’s disgusting to see such a talent being wasted. Cannot understand this treatment that too coming from a rookie manager who has been given a new lease of life from a set of youngsters yet all his faith seems tk be with dreadfull exp players.
    I would have preferred the league standing with youngsters playing and blooded in that would have made the future brighter. I am bitterly dissapointed with teh decisions, cannot.understand the strategic perspective.

  • I think the chances to reach the semi-final is 50% now – which is a significant drop from before.
    I don’t exactly remember when Arteta said that all remaining games will be like finals, but this one wasn’t treated as a final – however making the second leg the mini-final instead of a formality.
    Not just the boys, Arteta must approach the second leg if his job is on the line, and I absolutely hope that it will be.

    Agreeing with Madhu in both points: I also don’t understand the Martinelli treatment. I’m familiar with the mantra of one game at a time, but if it leads to sub-optimal talent utilization and form timing then it is not as wise as it sounds.
    And while the league performance makes me ashamed I could take the bitter pill if the results sacrificed could be balanced with the heavy involvement of “for the future” youngsters like Azeez, Balogun, Saliba, Cottrell, etc. However when Arsenal achieves the worst league results of a lifetime (40 years) playing with the best line-ups available – even ‘senior youngsters’ like Nketiah, Nelson and Martinelli playing less than 720 PL-minutes combined (!) – then I must join Madhu in his disappointment regarding the management’s strategic competencies.

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