Arsenal and Manchester United could both seal their fates in the Champions League group stage tonight when they face Lens and Galatasaray respectively.
Mikel Arteta’s Premier League leaders only need a point to guarantee their place in the knockout rounds, while United’s predicament is very different: lose in Istanbul and the last 16 will be out of reach for another year with one round of games to go.
Both teams, however, could be forgiven for looking beyond midweek and pondering the effect that their European exertions could have on their domestic fortunes.
Arsenal will have top spot and, in theory, an easier draw safely in the bag if they beat Lens, meaning Arteta will have the luxury of being able to rest players in the final group game, away to PSV Eindhoven, on 12 December.
This matters because the PSV fixture comes in between a testing trip to Aston Villa, who have won 13 league games in a row at home, and a visit from Brighton, who have won their last matches at Emirates Stadium.
Beat Lens in north London on Wednesday and Arsenal can rotate the likes of William Saliba, Declan Rice, Martin Odegaard, Gabriel Martinelli, Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Jesus ahead of a busy festive period that also includes Liverpool away and a derby with West Ham United.
“We’ve been very unlucky with some of the injuries,” Arteta said on Tuesday, revealing that midfielder Fabio Vieira faced an extended spell on the sidelines after undergoing groin surgery.
In better news, he said Thomas Partey and Emile Smith Rowe were back in training and could return before the end of the year. “We’re not the only club with injuries. Where it happens is a bit critical. The team needs to adapt.”
United manager Erik ten Hag won’t have the same opportunity to spare weary legs, even if they win at Galatasaray, scene of some infamously hostile receptions, for the first time.
In fact, beating the Turkish side and Bayern Munich, who have already secured top spot in Group A, in a fortnight’s time may not be enough to scrape into the next stage, depending on how Copenhagen fare in their remaining two games.
And even if Galatasaray dump United out, there will still be third place and the parachute of Europa League entry to play for on the final match day. Whatever happens, Ten Hag can ill afford to rest his best performers in either game.
That could prove particularly costly for a squad already shorn of eight players by injury, as well as persona non grata Jadon Sancho, whose position at the top of the Premier League form table looks set to come under severe pressure in December.
Before their final Champions League group game United must visit Newcastle United and host Chelsea, while after it they have Liverpool, West Ham and Villa in consecutive fixtures.
Ten Hag does at least have striker Rasmus Hojlund and winger Anthony back in his squad and insisted he wouldn’t shirk fielding teenage midfielder Kobbie Mainoo in what is expected to be another red-hot atmosphere.
“No, we don’t have fear. If players are good enough, then they are old enough,” he said. “We are confident. The last games away from home in the league were also very hostile environments. We played very well. We were very calm and composed.
“You have to stay calm in your head and don’t get too emotional. You need the emotions but you have to control it. We know how to deal with it.
“It’s important how we are playing. We will make a good plan but then, at the end of day, the players have to decide, they have to manage the game.”