And then there were 4,893…
Lucien Favre is to become the next Dortmund boss so he will forever be known in media terms as ‘former Arsenal target Lucien Favre’ or, as I like to think of it, ‘was never Arsenal target, you just made that up, Lucien Favre’.
It’s always tricky to know how to begin a preview of a match like this. It’s essentially ‘sh*t or bust’ and for every one of you nodding your head, there are five thinking, “don’t jinx it, don’t jinx it”. Well, sorry, I probably will.
There’s no other way to think of it than as us being massive underdogs thanks to Barry Chuckle kicking the ball into his face. Arsène said yesterday “You can always discover new things in football” and he wasn’t kidding; no-one expected Koscielny to cock it up in that manner. It was a new low, even by our standards.
The sobriquet ‘Chuckle Brothers’ is offending some and having seen the defending in the Champions League semi-finals, might be deemed harsh. It staggers me that no coaches these days are able to set their side up for a good, old-fashioned goalless draw, beyond Simeone, of course.
And that’s the problem we face tonight. 1 – 0 meant Atletico needed two goals and to shut us out; we might have managed a goal to make their job even harder. Will Simeone’s absence from the touchline make a blind bit of difference? He won’t be there to whip the crowd up but then it would be no surprise to see him in the front row with a megaphone whipping the Atletico faithful into a frenzy.
We don’t need the frenzy; we need to be calm, methodical and above all, concentrating. None of the harum-scarum defending we’ve come to know; just simple, unfussy defending which is proving an alien concept this season.
Yes Sir. Insane Sir. Obviously Insane.
Simeone welcomes back Diego Costa, this generation’s Simeone as a player. Not positionally or technically but in the willingness to provoke, incite and every other aspect of the dark arts. A player we know well. Arsène was asked how we plan to counter his threat. Easy; don’t play Per and Gabriel was sold last summer.
Tonight is, apparently, Arsène’s 250th match. It’s a career which still awaits his first European trophy. While we talk of the players, Wenger has a point to prove as well. He wants a club career beyond Arsenal, judging by his comments and not at an Everton or Brentford but an elite club. He needs to prove himself at this level after a succession of embarrassments and failures in the Champions League.
A victory tonight is a signal there’s still a tiger in the tank; that he has the nous to outwit one of Europe’s shining stars in coaching. The gnawing self-doubt in his mind is a huge obstacle to overcome; like the players, he is in the shop window and he needs a win in a big game to answer some of the questions which linger about these occasions.
Can we do it? Talk of invoking the spirit of 2006 is good spiel but we don’t have a Henry to run at the defence or hoover up chances in the six-yard box on demand. We have Özil to prod and create but he needs a ‘big game’. Grabbing the 90 minutes by the throat isn’t his style but we need his version of that. The one who shone at Wembley in last year’s FA Cup rather than the one who wanders out to the right touchline and watches all the attacks on the left. That’s the responsibility a £300k per week contract brings.
Everyone Gets Everything He Wants
Most of all, I want us to be proud of their efforts. If we’re going to fail, let’s have no regrets about tonight’s game. We’ve got enough from the first leg, don’t compound them. Do I think we can do it? Monaco, Bayern; those ‘glorious’ failures after disasters at the Emirates show we’re capable of it.
Naturally, you’ll look at our away form in England and raise an eyebrow at the prospect of emulating those wins. Forget them; this is the Europa League and normal rules don’t apply. Milan showed we can drag the performance from the pits of our footballing souls. Moscow showed we can get a result when the performance is missing.
Using one of those ways, we’ve got a job to do and I know which is easiest. But this Arsenal likes to do things the hard way.
The XI Arsène will choose to do that is likely to be:
Ospina; Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Ramsey, Xhaka; Mkhitaryan, Özil, Welbeck; Lacazette
How will this fairy tale end? In my dreams, Simeone charging from the crowd onto the pitch and Koscielny kicking the ball into his face. In slow motion, the ball flies into the net before the referee can blow his whistle. I can dream, can’t I? The question is, can Arsenal make dreams come true?
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.