Let’s dream of European glory, and a backdoor entrance to a competition we are ill-equipped to survive, with a manager in the last year of his deal.
YES PEOPLE, my favourite competition of all time is upon us. Arsenal face down CSKA in a winner takes the semi final type game.
This should be a walk in the park, right?
Arsenal can’t go into this game with a sloppy complacent attitude. We’ve already seen a shaky first half from Liverpool that nearly let City back in, we saw Barcelona fuck a lead in Rome, and Juventus nearly beat Madrid after taking a 3 goal lead at the Bernabeu.
If any team in Europe can go to CSKA and blow a 3 goal lead, it’s Arsenal.
Still, an admittance from Arsene Wenger that the trophy is important is a welcome boost for team focus.
“Europa League is important for us – everybody knows that and we are at [the] stage where of course we focus on it because in the Premier League we have a very, very, very slim chance to get further up,” said Wenger.
“The Europa League is one of the big targets of the season.”
I like that he’s still thinking about the top four race of yesteryear. No Arsene, it’s been Europa or bust for a while. We’ve never been in the top 4 hunt. That much was clear last summer when you absolutely tanked it.
The Europa is an opportunity though. If we land an easy-ish draw in the semis, we could easily find ourselves lining up in Lyon.
One game at a time.
The team news is mistake machine Granit Xhaka is certainly out of the game (I’m being mean, he’s been good for at least 5 games). We have no Mikki who we know loves the Europa League. I expect we’ll see the in-form Danny W start, along with assist King Alex Iwobi.
I hope we go there to soak up the pressure. We don’t need to win 4-1 again. We need to keep it calm for the first 20minutes and slowly feel our way into the game. No dramas. No rash decisions. Just see the result through.
Sounds great on a blog, let’s see how it plays out in the real world.
Fun fact: The CSKA game was the first time since 99-00 (UEFA Cup) that we’ve won 3 knockout European games in a row. Isn’t that shite?
Right, see you in the comments. Also, last chance to listen to our bloody excellent podcast.
GREAT news coming from the Reiss Nelson camp, the young English speed merchant is making positive noises about signing a new deal. He had this to say on his season so far.
“It is a big achievement to sign for a big club like Arsenal so I’m just delighted with the contract and hopeful can sign it soon,” he said. “I did set one target – to make my first-team debut. I have done that, I have had 15 appearances.
Everything good and bad about Danny W was on display yesterday as Arsenal bumbled their way past the worst Southampton side we’ve seen in 5 years. He missed an open goal so wide you could have squeezed Samir Nasri’s arse through it, he assisted with a delightful deft touch, and he banged in two goals, one with a scruffy deflection, the other with an opportunistic header at the back post.
It was Danny’s day, but it wasn’t one you’d look back on with a great deal of fondness. It was Arsenal at their most banterful. The ground was half empty, the players were preserving their legs on the off chance they could land a starting place in Russia this Thursday, and the output of the day was a touch bizarre.
We went one goal down early. Tadic and Cedric made mincemeat of Chambers and Kolasinac down the left, a speculative ball was fired at our front post with the curve moving away from the keeper, Mustafi just zoned out like he’d had a clean energy production epiphany, Shane Long nipped in and put it past Cech. A defensive error so very symptomatic of any Wenger side you could remember over the past fifteen years.
The German would likely be a machine under a proper manager who cared about defence, but he’s not with us. He’s clumsy, he’s a finger-wagger like Flamini, and he’s ever so average.
We clawed a goal back in a sumptuous move. Elneney found Auba from deep midfield, he laid off Iwobes who returned the pass, a quick one-two with WELBZ set the man from Gabon free to poke his shot inside the keepers post.
9 minutes later Danny W picked up a great ball from Iwobi, he cut inside right and rifled a deflected shot into the top corner from 20 yards. Has the man ever had a clean shot? Can we call this a strategy now? A great goal regardless.
Their second goal was a collection of very Arsenal fuck-ups. We weren’t alert to their quick freekick, we managed to get away with the first ball fizzed across our box, Jack Wilshere was pottering around and didn’t get close to Hojberg on the edge of the box. The Dane played a one-two with Tadic, crossed across a now packed box and found Charlie Austin for a near instant goal after he came on as a sub. Utterly embarrassing. I mean, I’m not even touching on Chambers shocking clearance, another player who looked off the pace all day. That £23m we rejected for him looking crazier by the day.
I thought we’d see out a point, but Danny Welbeck had other ideas, popping up to nod home a looping Iwobi cross in the 80th minute.
The game wasn’t finished from a drama perspective, Jack Wilshere had to make an impact the only way he knows how to these days. He had a tussle with Stephens just outside the Stoke box and didn’t like the outcome. He decided to track him down as he powered through the middle of the pitch, Jack ripped his shirt because he couldn’t keep pace with the centre back, and was instantly thrown to the floor in retaliation. Jack got up, protested, landed Stephens a red card, he managed to get away with a yellow. Then Elneney got involved in the mess and landed a red. A real joke of a situation that was completely unnecessary.
An entertaining afternoon, no doubt. But entertaining like a comical WWE bout. We shouldn’t be conceding 2 goals to relegation fodder under any circumstances, let alone at home. We shouldn’t be picking up late red cards in nothing matches. We shouldn’t be so flat. But we are. Arsenal is a weird old place at the moment.
Aubameayang is an interesting striker. He’s starting to settle into the rhythm of the first team, he’s offering up the runs our playmaker’s dream of, and he’s starting to connect better with the build-up play. His MO is goals, and pretty much just goals. I don’t think he wants to be involved in the play like a Thierry, Robin or Alexis would be. His end product outside of goals isn’t great, and I don’t expect we’ll be seeing much in the way of link-up play like a Giroud would offer. But, look, he scores goals. He’s now our most prolific striker over the first 7 games, beating out Davor Suker (Opta inventing stats to new levels). It would be a real shame not to give him a run with a proper manager, in a proper team. Next year is going to be him at his peak, we need to max out his value and that won’t be with Wenger.
Jack Wilshere was disappointing again. The apologists will say his head isn’t in the game at the moment as he’s thinking about his contract. Well, that never stopped Theo and it certainly isn’t stopping Ramsey pulling up trees (nor Ozil earlier in the season). I think it’s mostly because he doesn’t have the extra level we’d hoped would be there. He’s 26 now, and he’s no more interesting than he was when he was 18. At least when he was a kid, you felt he cared about the game, I look at him now and wonder if he’s just in it for the wages and the good life at home? He’s certainly not playing like he wants a new deal or a move to a better club. I’m not sure I’d be whacking £100k p/w on him based on what we’ve seen this year.
Arsene is clearly blowing all on zero at the roulette table. It’s the only way he saves this season. We’ll win on Thursday, and he’ll have a chance at a new deal because Stan and Josh don’t understand the context of failure. If he makes the final, he’ll have to avoid Atleti, who have so many levels to their game. I watched them respond to going 1 down at Madrid. They have many great players and a coach who can change the game from the touchline. We have no chance against them over two legs, and it’ll be a Chelsea like miracle over one game.
But we’ll see… this season is the Europa mission. A shame for the home fans, because the Premier League season is like watching paint dry. The apathy in the ground is met in the living rooms. Pray we don’t mess up Thursday.
See you in the comments, and watch our podcast where Matt and I discuss: