by .

Daaaaaaaaamn… talk about squeaking your way to the next round.

Mikel Arteta scraped through against Benfica in a fine margins classic for the bin.

I don’t really know where to start. I spent most of the 90 minutes messaging with pals expecting the worst. The luck doesn’t follow us. When you look at the two legs on the face of it, Benfica offered nothing. They scored from a penalty, a freekick, and a beautiful final ball from Dani Ceballos.

We missed a bundle of chances. We controlled the game for the most part. But the whole thing felt very much like the sort of tactical masterclass we’d lose in the early Wenger years.

‘Clever Italian team shithouses Arsenal again’

You have to thread this game through the lens of the load on the players. The rotation policy at Arsenal is bad. It’s bad because there’s not a lot of depth to choose from. Also, the game was so important, Arteta didn’t want to take a risk on players that are liable to give you a total stinker. The result? Everyone looked gassed. The two games either side of the Benfica match-ups were Leeds and Manchester City. Two of the hardest games physically in the most physical league in Europe.

It’s still tough to watch a performance like that. I feel like we get destroyed to the absolute max everytime there’s an error… there were a few yesterday. Gabriel and David Luiz were a bit of a mess. I think the young Brazilian is a bit erratic at the moment and the older one always leaves my heart in my mouth. Covid brain might have something to do with it for Gabriel. The Benfica coach, who has dealt with 17 cases of it, went ballistic at the fans after because of their lack of sympathy. Footballers aren’t machines and we should remember that in a moment like now.

It also seems like there’s a lack of chemistry when Odegaard is on the pitch with ESR. Neither pulled up trees last night in a game that needed their incisive passing and impact ability.

You can’t call it a bad performance, Benfica were not great, but at the same time, it wasn’t exactly the breezy last 32 game we hoped was in store. The important thing for me is that we didn’t panic, the players kept at it, and Bukayo Saka and Kieran Tierney saved the day again.

Kieran Tierney calls his shooting leg ‘The Gun’ which I love.

The subs are still a problem. Arteta reckoned his addiction to Willian was acceptable because the game was about tight spaces, he’s a tight spaces merchant… and he landed an assist. I can’t agree with that (even though I am wrong here). Movement, energy and speed was the move. 1 assist in 24 is a fluke. The real insight was Bukayo Saka driving the team forward with power and a bold pass. That was a proper assist. Willian found Tierney, no doubt, but it was hardly top drawer assisting, the left back had a lot of work to do.

The crazy thing is it’s hard to fathom the gamble. I read fans saying ‘amazing that he could potentially throw his job over Willian’ and I totally agreed. The other thing I hate about the assist is that it has permitted Arteta to start him. He’s been desperate to give him a run for months. I’d rather see Martinelli coming off the bench in a game like that. Terrorise their back four.

But, on paper, Arteta got it right. So we have to hold the moaing. We’re through. That’s the most important thing.

It’s also worth noting that Leicester City didn’t go through last night. They limped out against Slavia Prague. They played most of their big names as well. They only made 4 changes from the weekend. They are in no position to be binning off the Europa, especially after last year. That makes winning a trophy we won’t win feel a lot sexier on paper

Below are the teams we could face.

  • Ajax (NED)
  • Arsenal (ENG)
  • Dinamo Zagreb (CRO)
  • Dynamo Kyiv (UKR)
  • Granada (ESP)
  • Man. United (ENG)
  • Milan (ITA)
  • Molde (NOR)
  • Olympiacos (GRE)
  • Rangers (SCO)
  • Roma (ITA)
  • Shakhtar Donetsk (UKR)
  • Slavia Praha (CZE)
  • Tottenham (ENG)
  • Young Boys (SUI)
  • Villarreal (ESP)

I have absolutely no doubt we’ll be drawing Roma, Shaktar, United, or Spurs. No chance we pick off an easy team. It’s just not the Arsenal way.

Still, exciting to still be involved.

RIGHT, listen to the on the whistle podcast with Matt. See you tomorrow! x

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Jump to comment form ↓

  1. Goobergooner

    China I agree. We have (had) squad building problems for so long that was compounded be Raul being a shit kent. But having only Partey in our midfield who is deemed competent is embarrassing. It’s such a shame hes been injured

  2. Globalgunner

    West ham doing what we were told impossible against the best team in the world. Give them a game and score a goal. So many beta mentality so called supporters said so. You have to believe they support other clubs and are just on here to cramp our mind set.

  3. The Godfather

    Michael Antonio used to personify the term DONKEY by my oh my has he improved. He has really proven to be a handful … City have no answer for him.
    West Ham could actually win this if they snatch a goal before Pep brings in some more guns from the bench

  4. Globalgunner

    Mr Serge. What gas happened with Moyes is that he has realised his mistakes and reinvented himself. No longer a safety first approach. He has plan not like the newbie making itupday by day. Do you see any player on the field that in any way or shape resembles our donkey Xhaja. None. The closest would be Fernandinho who is approaching 40 and is still twice the player Xhaka will ever be. Yet that Dromedary is the first name on our team sheet.

  5. Jamie

    Moyes was hired after Arteta and we’re currently 12 points behind West Ham.

    Imagine what Moyes can achieve after 60 transfers and a £250m war chest.

  6. Goobergooner

    West ham just break so much quicker than us.

    They even have a stronger ‘play out of the back’ game, as they avoid the press then actually release a forward on the move.

  7. Nelson

    That’s some plays we have to adopt from the City game. This low pass and tap in is so much better than those long crosses.

  8. Chris

    Laporte may have trouble getting back in the starting 11 for City, Dias and Stones work well as a pairing. As others have pointed out here, this is possibly the most important part of a centre back pairing perhaps than individual quality.

    I hope to see us use Mari and Holding again soon as that seems to have been our best working CB pairing this season.

  9. Goobergooner

    Nelson 😂

    I really don’t understand our crossing game. Is it literally just based on the assumption that once in a blue moon someone will at least get on the end of it. We can make such better plays by crossing earlier/lower or with cutbacks.

    It’s appalling lack of squad knowledge trying to get any of our forwards onto high balls and assuming it will pay off more often than not.

    (Aubas goal off that magical cross notwithstanding 😂)

  10. Pierre

    Pity we didn’t have the balls to go for stones and jorghino in the last 12 months , players that i would have loved at Arsenal

    Both are showing their quality now, jorginho now has a manager who trusts him and chelsea are reaping the benefit.

  11. China1

    Yeah it’s literally astonishing that even if our players are mostly too dim to notice that high crosses will rarely ever work for us, surely the manager would be telling our players to hit it low and hard where we actually have a semi frequent chance of competing

    But alas old generational doesn’t appear to have even noticed this fact and actively defended it a couple of months back talking about how many crosses we put in as if quantity is more important than quality

    Visionary stuff

  12. China1

    Also if you were auba or laca wouldn’t you be telling your team mates to stop playing floaty high crosses? Why is no one at arsenal saying this? The manager doesn’t. The strikers don’t. The wide players and fullbacks don’t notice (saka is excused because he is a phenomenal crosser)

    It’s honestly nuts that this silly tactic has gone on for so long without change

  13. Valentin


    This is not a new story.

    He was well settled at Chelsea and wanted to stay.

    Chelsea only offered 1 year deal on £150kpw with an option of an extra year.

    Spurs offered him two straight years but on £90kpw.

    Edu and Arteta offered him 3 years on £250kpw, so no it was not a difficult decision to leave Chelsea.

    Anyway, you want to look at it, it was a bad deal for Arsenal. Too long and too much money. On top of that he had no leverage on Arsenal, because everybody knew he was desperate to stay in London for his fanily. He gave an interview to that effect last February.

    I said at the time Peter Risdale school of negotiation.

  14. Valentin


    The players know that in view of our personnel that tactic of sending floating deep crosses will not work, but they also know that if they go off script they will be benched. So they religiously follows the instructions given to them, even if they don’t make sense.

    The youngsters such as ESR, Saka, Tierney have still a modicum of freedom in their play and ignore that non-sense. They play what’s in front of them instead of blindly follow Arteta’s touchline screams.

  15. Nelson


    There are two types of crosses. MC’s left back, João Cancelo,’s cross always aims at his teammates. Tierney’s crosses are targeting a space in the box. Both Auba and Laca don’t have a powerful move and hit capability to receive those crosses. Saka looked first than crossed to Auba accurately.

  16. China1

    Valentin saka is one of the best crossers in the league so as far as I’m concerned he should make his own judgment call how to put it in. He also has excellent decision making far beyond his years so I always give him the benefit of the doubt even when stuff doesn’t come off. Fabulous player he is

    But everyone else floating in those crosses is soooooo tiresome and it’s literally just running the clock down. Like watching Cedric, Pepe and Bellerin do it again and again is one of the most insufferable things to watch ever. I’d rather gouge out my own eyeballs than watch a ball gently float 4m up in the air for a whole 30 yards towards a crowded box of 3 defenders dominating Auba as he pretends to go for a header knowingly as well as the rest of us it’s never ever ever coming off

    Just fucking stop it

  17. Gbat


    You don’t know if any of those numbers you’ve produced are correct. You’ve gone with the highest number you could find because all you do is try to put the club down. Don’t think I’ve ever read a positive comment from you.

  18. China1

    I would absolutely love to know for all the bazillion goals auba has scored for us since he signed how many were headers from around the penalty spot coming off a floaty cross

    I bet that number is less than 5 and possibly less than 3.

    I’d even hazard a guess that he’s scored more overhead kicks from the penalty spot than headers and in fact he’d have a better chance of scoring if he just went for those as a matter of policy from here on lol.

  19. Kroenkephobe

    Reminds me of that connery sound alike Scottish geezer on that show gladiators. “Brighton, you will shhhooot on my firsht whishel, I will overturn my deshision on my shecond whishel”. Bonkers!

  20. Danny

    Didn’t we want to sign Stone at one time? What happened?
    Have we ever bought a player from Man C? We only sell to them!

  21. Radio Raheem

    Brighton have got to be the worst finishers in the history of the Premier League, they should be challenging for Europe.

  22. Freddie Ljungberg

    This is pretty hilarious if true, just worrying if it means they’ll send Kola back after this season ends.

    Saliba apparently made a mistake in the last game misplacing a pass that resulted in a goal, but he also hasn’t been dribbled past once in 10 games which is pretty impressive…

    He should have worked the mistakes out and upped his match fitness in the cups first half of the season and he would have been ready to play for us now, such a waste. At least Luiz is getting plenty of minutes, he’s the future he is…

  23. Tom


    So apparently Dunk asked Mason if he could take a quick free kick and Mason said yes.
    Mason then blew his whistle, which, unless rules have changed, isn’t really required for taking a quick free kick.
    Mason then realized the keeper is at the near post lining up his wall and blows the play dead before the ball crossed the line.
    Both sides protest, he disallows it, then gives it.
    Then VAR get involved and he disallows it again.

    Text book officiating PL standards.

  24. Graham62

    My local team, BHA, are really in deep shite now.

    Even the experienced players are bottling it, though I have to admit the officiating was atrocious today at WBA.

    Play some great stuff but can they hit the back of the net? Can the fcuk!

    Fulham win at CP tomorrow and they’re only one point behind.

    Still think they’ll stay up though.

  25. Kroenkephobe


    I nearly laughed my balls off. Would not have been so funny if I was BHA supporter. And 2 penalties that both missed the goal…

    Just been a similar ref error in the England rugby match v Wales. Hilarious.

  26. Nelson

    Have we ever bought a player from Man C? We only sell to them!

    But we got their assistant coach though!