Nobody said it had to be pretty. A tepid performance, palatable thanks to Köln’s 5-2 insurance policy against BATE Borisov guaranteeing Arsenal a place in the last 32. If you can’t win it, then you mustn’t lose it seemed to be the mantra to take the point that was offered. Arsenal need at least a win, or a draw from the remaining two games depending on other results to guarantee top spot.
If we’ve learnt anything from the tedious ground hog days of Champions League second round qualification, it’s that making it top of the group sometimes doesn’t guarantee an easy ride.
Many would still argue that for this second string, topping the group will give them a world of confidence to extend to the other cup competitions. The way the Champions League first rounds are going, there are likely to be at least 4 notable European clubs falling through the cracks into the Europa League.
With Arsenal current favourites to win the Europa League, our metal will soon be tested for real. At this point, it is likely that we’ll start seeing more of the first team regulars, Per Mertesacker being the most likely to get more pitch time for this competition.
Coherence wasn’t a word you could shout out confidently last night, the team for most part, playing more like 11 strangers put together to do a job. Except for young Matt Macey, you couldn’t really write home to point a finger at any outfield player who was outstanding.
This was to be expected. The reverse fixture a fortnight ago giving us a glimpse of the doggedness of Red Star. They are flying high in their league and before stepping onto the Emirates turf, had only lost 1 out of 16 matches.
If I Told You That, We Have Our Centurions…
Lady Luck was surely with Arsenal last night, Richmond Boakye forgetting to bring his shooting boots to the party. The Red Star Striker had two clear chances to see the whites of Matt Macy’s eyes, but fluffed his lines. Other seasoned strikers would have ruthlessly punished Arsenal.
Slavoljub Srnic’s powerful drive tested Macy’s quality and the young Arsenal keeper showed us a glimpse of his ability. The visitor’s most promising chance fell to Nemanja Radonjic. His shot deflected into Vujadin Savic’s way and Macey clawed his looping header onto the cross bar.
As the final minutes ticked away last night, the George Michael and Whitney Houston duet “If I told you that” came to mind. You’d be hard pressed to believe we had two centurions in Giroud and Walcott on the pitch; 200 plus goals between them. Yet there it was, the resigned feeling that if Arsenal continued playing until the cows came home, none of them would hit their arses with a banjo.
This wasn’t the first match that the two elder statesmen of the second string have gone missing. With performances like these, I don’t see how Giroud and Walcott get a start in the Premier League squad.
Perhaps a focus on becoming super-subs a better proposition for them. Eddie ‘Super Sub’ Nketiah stole the limelight, but is unlikely to usurp Giroud or Walcott in the first team.
Strangers in the Night
The Frenchman had a great opportunity to open the scoring following an intricate move between Willock and Wilshere. The pair combined, opening space for Maitland-Niles. He deftly beat his man and cut the ball back for Giroud, ready for the Frenchman to swipe home.
Red Star’s Canadian keeper Milan Borjan wasn’t having none of that. Clearly, he learned his lesson from Ludogorets when Mesut Özil scored the goal of the season; that was exactly one year ago this week.
Theo on the other hand couldn’t buy a chance for goal if you gave him a blank cheque. Another disappointing show from him, despite being captain on the night. His performance was summed up by a spin and air shot in the 79th minute.
Arsenal’s best chance came from Wilshere asserted his authority or to be more accurate, picked Maitland-Niles pocket. As Jack beautifully guided the ball past the Red Star keeper, the crowd behind the goal sucked the ball toward them. As the stadium waited for the net to bulge, Le Tallec leapt into a volley to clear from in front of the goal line.
The less said about the rest of the match, the better. It will be put down to experience for the youngsters, and necessary mileage for the first team fringe players. None from last night will feature at the Etihad on Sunday for our inevitable clash with the league favourites.
In recent years, we have done well against Man City with a sprinkle of draws and wins. Arsenal are the underdogs against a free-scoring City side who are playing with panache.
It’s an opportunity to give them a good test to their title credentials. We need the defensive template against Chelsea combined with the positive performances against Everton and Swansea to succeed.
Sunday, Bloody Sunday
We can get at their defence but there’s a “we’ll score more goals than you” feeling about Sunday’s match. The players must believe that they can do it, but more importantly, must turn up and apply themselves professionally.
It’s certainly a game that we could do with a one forgotten Santiago Cazorla. Spare a thought for the Arsenal star as he talks today about the gangrene that infected his ankle and caused doctors to consider amputating his leg.
Marca will be carrying the story today with a close-up picture of his ankle. He has lost 8 cm from his tendon from multiple-operations, while a skin graft from his arm bears a tattoo of his daughter’s name.
Wenger is looking forward to welcoming the Spaniard back after Christmas. Even he admits Santi needs to take his time, not having played for 18 months.
At 32, it’s unlikely that he’ll feature extensively. However, his experience will be invaluable as we navigate the business end of the season.
Finally, just to tell you there’s a new post on Dad’s Jukebox, “JUKEBOX CLASSICS: #8 HEY JIMI – THE SONGS HENDRIX COVERED“. Enjoy.
Have a great day good people.