Which Arsenal will turn up? The one which lost to Roma or one which salvaged the day with a last-minute penalty in the Bernabeu?
As if we’d score a penalty under those circumstances.
Three-goal leads are the new two-goal leads. Years of waiting for someone to overcome a good first leg gubbing and now everyone’s at it. Well, Manchester City aside. They took the whole European tradition and kept it alive by losing the second leg as well.
Michael Oliver, the Tin Man of European football, has a bag of trash for his heart. He ruined Gigi Buffon’s night by not only sending him off for dissent or violent conduct – either was applicable – and awarding a penalty – it was – which knocked Juventus out of the competition in a heart-breaking way.
Oliver’s performance is cited as a reason why English referees aren’t going to Russia. One can only assume that the Spanish ref at the Etihad had a very bad night – an off-night – because he looked like he would slot right into the English game.
Look at me; mocking the Champions League, a competition Arsenal can now only aspire to. Arsène finally acknowledged what everyone else has known for months: our only route back is winning the Europa League. Now it’s “a big target”. Is that the same as the one painted on his back?
We travel to Moscow ruing the missed chances in the second leg, with a sense of dread at being 4 – 1 up from the first leg. According to Michael Owen last night, it means we won’t know how to plan for the tie. Do we attack? Do we defend? CSKA have one objective: three goals and a clean sheet. That makes their life easier while ours is just one big ball of confusion.
Business as usual.
On the Way the Paper Bag was on my Knee
Can we really lose 3 – 0? Of course we can. Better Arsenal sides than this have come unstuck in Russia and elsewhere before.
Focus shouldn’t even be an issue. Get onto the pitch and take control of the game. Kill their hopes with a goal. One goal means they need five; 4 – 1 sends the tie into extra-time and a penalty shootout. Better than going out at 90 minutes but nerve-tingling nonetheless. And brings no guarantee of success either.
Look at me talking about Russia and nerves.
Granit Xhaka has the ‘flu and didn’t make the trip. It means Mo Elneny will bring his good fortune to the pitch; he must feel unbeatable after the FA reversed his red card. Hell freezes over more frequently than that happening. I think he was playing anyway but it gives Jack Wilshere an opportunity for redemption.
Still at loggerheads over his contract, he needs a big performance to convince people he’s the Jack Wilshere of lore, the one who can drive Arsenal forward. Otherwise, it’s ‘ciao’ in the summer.
The team pretty much picks itself these days with the only real question hanging over who replaces Mkhitaryan. Welbeck grabbed a couple at the weekend but with Lacazette starting, it’s hard for Danny to be in the XI. Our options from the bench would be severely limited if he does.
Which really on leaves Alex Iwobi. He produced his best performance in some time at the weekend and in the heady days when we thought the goalless draw at Stamford Bridge was a good result last year, he worked hard. Tonight needs a combination of both; diligence defensively with good use of the ball in attack. Iwobi is climbing into the same boat as Wilshere and needs to find form to stop the questions.
Been Away So Long I Hardly Knew the Place
All of which brings us to the line-up. I don’t expect any surprises in the XI or any grand tactical innovation. It’s all business as usual and hope that we score more than they do.
Recent form will stand us in good stead but five of the six wins were at home. We need to replicate the start made in Milan where we were positive. It took a few seconds to twig that’s the match Arsène was referring to and not the home leg against Milan where we were over-run.
Although Mkhitaryan is missing, there’s no reason beyond our inconsistency why we cannot harness the energy of the last round. The XI tasked with that will be:
Cech; Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Ramsey, Elneny; Özil, Wilshere, Iwobi; Lacazette
Which ought to be a good enough side to see the job through.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.