Arsenal seem to have perfected the art of ‘Death by hope’. We’re suckers for it, sometimes unashamedly so. Last night on the bus back home after watching the second leg with friends at the bar, I got thinking. Atlético haven’t conceded a goal at home since the last week of January; Oblak their keeper has 10 clean sheets in 12; and Arsenal couldn’t even beat Atlético with 10 men at the Emirates. What chance did we have to squeeze through to the final? You don’t get to a European final and having what? One shot on target the whole game?
Like many of you, I’d hope we’d pull a 3-nil Milan-esque fight back; or one of them 2-nil’s we gave Bayern after the horse had bolted. I also wondered whether any other manager would have got more from this group of players in such a critical game. “Dear Diego, in case you’re reading, there’s a managerial vacancy at Arsenal”. The sense of the lost opportunities are somehow tempered by the knowledge that Arséne his bowing out and we have the hope of a new style of leadership and football coming. Like Delboy from ‘Only Fools and |Horses’ says, “This time next year, we’ll be champions”.
Fairy Tale? What Fairy Tale?
Yes, a fairy tale to end Wenger’s career at Arsenal was on everyone’s lips. It was not to be. Tiki taka was the order of the night at the Wanda Metropolitano as Arsenal reverted to type. A lot of motion, but little impact in the final third. An extra pass here, a cross with no one at the end. A defensive unit like Atlético could have defended that game until the cows came home. Arsenal had no bite, with Welbeck and Lacazette marshalled well for most of the game. Xhaka’s one shot on target was never going to flummox Jan Oblak from 25 yards. Both Monreal and Bellarin made sorties into the opposition half, but none produced a killer cross that couldn’t be handled by the Atlético defence. In the rare occasions that the ball flashed across the box, no Arsenal toe was anywhere near the ball for a poke home.
The home side pressed well high up the pitch. Just as you’re thinking “Come on boys, walk this game into half-time at 0-0, we lost the ball from the pressing, and that Costa fella was put through. Advantage Atlético. If there’s one thing that really baffles me about this Arsenal team, it’s game management. You really don’t need to be a world-class manager or player to know that with 45 minutes on the clock, the only objective is to not concede before the referee blows for half-time. All’s not lost you think. There’s 45 minutes to go. Surely, Arsenal can score a goal?
Beware The Wear and Tear of the Achilles
It was bound to happen, the only question was when. I feel for Laurent Koscielny, especially because he’ll miss probably what will be his last World Cup. For some reason, I was actually comfortable with Chambers stepping in. There’s something I saw in his play at Old Trafford, but also in recent times. I liked the way he communicated and marshalled the defence against United, especially guiding Mavapanos. I don’t think the introduction of Chambers in the 10th minute interrupted the rhythm of the game.
In fact, Chambers did very well, making at least two very critical tackles to rob Diego Costa of another opportunity to see the whites of Ospina’s eyes. The reality is that Laurent Koscielny should now be looking to take it easy and play a senior citizen role at Arsenal. I’d like to see Chambers given a chance to really make the position his. I like Dino Mavropano’s too. One has to ask, what if Mustafi, Chambers, Mavropanos and Holding are really drilled into no-nonsense defending. I suspect a new manager will want to get in their own finished articles, but whoever it is has a place to start.
Who’s Going to Pick Them Up?
Thursday night football is here to stay, at least for a season. At the final whistle, you could see the agony of the players with the realization that there’s no Champions League next season. To be honest, that might not be a bad thing as a new manager rebuilds Arsenal. No point in us getting back into the Champions League only to be given a good hiding by Bayern, Barcelona or whoever we meet in the round of 16. That nonsense was just getting tedious. If there’s one thing that is comforting about losing a semi-final, it’s that losing the final would have been more devastating.
There’s only pride left to play for in the Premier League. The next Arsenal manager has a huge challenge picking up the team. There’s a lot to look forward to for everyone associated with Arsenal. Perhaps a new type of hope that doesn’t kill. Maybe a manager who will drill the team in defence, as well as Mr Simeone, has done with his. Sure there will be a few players shipped out, and more to come in, but after a season like 2017-2018; something had to give.
Have a great weekend good people.