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