Ostersunds FK stars attracting English interest
By Oliver Young-Myles
Last Updated: 15/02/18 4:43pm
In recent seasons, Arsenal's European hopes have been dashed by Bayern Munich but this year they are the overwhelming favourites to progress through their first knockout game against Swedish side Ostersunds FK.
That their story has centred around the expert, if somewhat unorthodox, coaching of an Englishman, Graham Potter, has made their journey even more fascinating.
Anything other than a comfortable Arsenal victory over two legs would be a surprise given the disparity between both clubs while Ostersund's inactivity since the conclusion of the Allsvenskan season in November is sure to impact the players' match fitness levels.
As they showed against Galatasaray, Hertha Berlin and Athletic Bilbao, though, Ostersund have the players to cause bigger clubs problems and a two-legged tie against one of England's most successful clubs is a big opportunity for their players to put themselves in the shop window.
Here are three players likely to be on the radar of watching scouts.
The subject of an international tug-of-war between Sweden and Iran last year, Saman Ghoddos played for both before eventually deciding to represent the country of his parents' birth rather than his adopted home.
Ghoddos belongs to an extremely exclusive club of players that includes Alfredo Di Stefano, to not only play for two different countries at senior level but also score, netting for Sweden against Slovakia in January last year and then for Iran against Panama ten months later.
That two nations who both sealed qualification to the 2018 World Cup wanted Ghoddos to represent them speaks volumes for the ability that the versatile 24-year-old forward possesses. Being named Swedish football's Attacker of the Year for 2017 offers further evidence of his credentials.
Adept at playing off either flank, as a no. 10 or even a false 9, Ghoddos, has a low centre of gravity, excellent close control and a rapid burst of pace. He has a good goalscoring record too, finding the net 31 times in 70 games for Ostersund since joining from Syrianska FC in 2015.
Of all the Ostersund players, Ghoddos is the one who has adapted most seamlessly to the higher standard of football in the Europa League, scoring twice and registering one assist in the group stage. Such form has already alerted scouts with Championship leaders Wolves, QPR and Fulham all credited with an interest last month.
Another player who could be lining up for his country at the World Cup this summer is Ken Sema as he was unused substitute during Sweden's memorable play-off win over Italy in November.
Like Ghoddos, Seme made his international bow in a 6-0 win over Slovakia in January last year and has gone on to feature twice more for Jan Andersson's side following an exceptional 2017 league campaign in which he came second in the Midfielder of the Year award.
Sema occupies a wide midfield berth for Ostersund, playing as an out-and-out winger on his favoured left side or as an inside forward cutting in from the right flank. He caught the eye with his direct style of play last season, successfully completing 71 dribbles in his 24 appearances, which was higher than any other player in the division.
Although he doesn't offer as great a goalscoring threat as Ghoddos, he is a key source of creativity for his side, weighing in with a club-high nine assists last season while he is also the designated corner taker. Strong, quick and capable of conjuring a moment of magic out of nothing, Sema has the tools to succeed in the English game and will have to be carefully monitored by Arsenal's defenders.
While Ghoddos and Sema will be looking to impact the play in the final third, one of the players tasked with keeping the likes of Henrikh Mkhitaryan quiet at the other end, is the commentator's nightmare, Sotirios Papagiannopolous.
As you'd expect of a 6'3 central defender, Papagiannopolous is commanding in the air, but in his case looks are somewhat decieving as far from being an old-fashioned, physical defender, he is extremely accomplished when in possession.
Arguably the standout feature of his game is charging forward with the ball at his feet, pushing his side up the pitch and committing opposing defenders. He uses the ball extremely resourcefully, as a pass accuracy rate of 93% in the 2017 Allsvenskan highlights.
He isn't the quickest and is prone to being turned too easily by intelligent forwards, but on the whole, Papagiannopolous is a solid central defender who plays a key role in building Ostersund attacks from the back. As the name suggests, Papagiannopolous is of Greek descent, but he too has been capped by Sweden at senior level, making his debut against Estonia last month.
Interested observers are unlikely to only be interested in the Ostersund players: their coach Graham Potter is arguably the headline act given the miraculous success he has enjoyed during a seven-year spell in charge.
Potter was a journeyman during his playing days, representing 11 football league clubs in total - either permanently or on loan - including Stoke City, Southampton and West Brom. Given how often he travelled around as a player, maybe it should come as no surprise that Potter has turned the club into a refuge for players discarded and unwanted by other clubs.
Ostersund's success after all has not come as a result of a major cash injection. Instead, they have achieved through clever recruitment, signing players from all corners of the globe who had something to prove. Modou Barrow is the biggest success story so far, moving to Swansea City following an explosive season with Ostersund back in 2014.
Rarely does a manager based in Scandinavia garner too much attention on these shores but it is a testament to the job that Potter has done to this point that he was linked with a return to Stoke after Mark Hughes' sacking.
A strong showing from Ostersunds FK over two games against Arsenal may just convince a Premier League or Championship club to finally take a punt on a manager who has worked miracles on a shoestring budget.