So, Atletico Madrid it is. Howls of anguish, groans of despair; personally, I fancy our chances more in a two-legged semi-final than in a one-off final. Remember Chelsea? They were 2nd and 3rd in the Premier League when we played them in Carabao Cup. That ended well, didn’t it?
It doesn’t mean that beating Atletico is a certainty, but not impossible. Villarreal, Espanyol, Sevilla, Chelsea; better than us? Barcelona are better than us, no question of that but those other four? That’s our peer group.
So, we have a chance of winning and two stabs at getting to the final. We might need them. As capable as we are producing a Milanese performance, we can as easily pitch in with a Moscow. No rhyme, no reason; just that we are the Arsenal.
And let’s not forget that like every other football side, Atletico have their weaknesses. So do we, we’re just less reticent about showing them.
The prospect of a European final is not to be sniffed at. There are but two per season now and we didn’t do a particularly good job of reaching them when there were three. 1969, 1980, 1994, 1995; then UEFA’s pearl of wisdom ditched one leaving us with just 2000 and 2006 since. There are a lot of defeats in there. And not many semi-final appearances beyond them, either.
Now we have the opportunity of reaching another final, it should be a reason for good cheer. And in isolation, it is. This is our level and we’ve found we’re quite good at it. Now we must up our game once again.
It’s no good lamenting that we’re not in the Champions League. Pragmatism tells us that we’re, at best, in the top sixteen in Europe, but not in the top four in England. Does the former stack up any longer?
Just get Stoned to the Bejeezus-belt on this Stuff
Then there’s the elephant in the room, or the elephant in the post if you like. I mentioned earlier about taking the Europa League in isolation, which of course, we cannot do.
Arsène’s future is inextricably woven into everything about the club. Junior was appointed vice-chairman of KSE and KSE UK recently; is that the prelude to more of an involvement on Arsenal’s board? Are the chips about to fall the wrong way for Chips?
That would weaken Arsène’s position if the tea leaves readings of the past are correct. Junior thinks less of Wenger than Enos.
We travel to Newcastle tomorrow, a happy hunting ground in the past. If we play like the opening 70 minutes in Moscow, we’ll be buried before we respond. If we play like the last 20, we’ll land our first Premier League away win since Palace.
Maybe we need more tactical genius from the manager. It must be a tough call to hook a player who looks out of sorts – suffering burn out? – and was kicked from pillar to post, as well as being flattened by his own team-mate. Replacing Jack Wilshere wasn’t genius.
Moving to the back three wasn’t that either. Elneny slotting into the sweeper role left us weakened in midfield; moving to the back three and bringing on Chambers for Wilshere at the same time was the move to make, instead of having the Egyptian flitting between defensive and midfield duties.
It’s little wonder we didn’t adapt well to the system. Wenger disparages it at every turn so how does he sell that at half-time to players who know he doesn’t rate it? Does it come across as desperation? It was fairly obvious after twenty minutes that we weren’t playing well with a flat-back four. A change was needed before half-time.
You’re not, uh… You’re not… You’re not good. You stink.
At the end of it though, we achieved the result we needed to progress. Football is a results-based business and aesthetics is to a certain extent, the least of a manager’s worries. It’s only when the empty seats continue to show up that he has real problems.
Ultimately, that is what did for George Graham, with the club already looking to replace him. He just gave them a reason to do it sooner than anticipated.
The question Arsene alluded to a couple of weeks ago was is sixth and a European trophy progress? It’s a false benchmark. Cup finals are good; nice to win, horrible to lose. But the bread-and-butter of European club football is the league and it always has been. Progress is judged by those performances, week in, week out.
Where we finish is one of the benchmarks but more a signal about where the club is comes from title challenges. 2015-16 aside, we haven’t been at the races for almost a decade. Sometimes we managed to get to March before falling away but now, it’s pre-Christmas. Is that progress?
There’s no doubt ‘Wengerball’ is a fading dream. We’re dull to watch for the most part; laborious with the ball. We have our moments – the first half against CSKA at the Emirates – but we’re not consistently finding that level. We’re listless in coaching, not adapting.
We can’t play like Manchester City but we can be more purposeful. We’ve assembled a bits-and-pieces XI. Bits of it are good, the rest in shattered in pieces. The new recruitment team can deal with that but do we have the money to back them?
We shall see.