“Green outside, nice trees, good grass. Fantastic. No pollution. Until the press conference starts.” The only thing missing was “Jumpers for goalposts…next goal wins…hmmm.”
Atletico Madrid arrive at the Emirates for a match which will go some way to influencing how his European adventures are remembered. For 22 years, the sum total of three semi-finals isn’t particularly brilliant – better than nothing, but not brilliant – although as he rightly observed, it’s not as if we have a history of lifting European trophies, is it?
Arsenal are in that sense, the most English of clubs, and Wenger the perfect manager. He never got to grips with the different requirements of European competition, surprisingly so for someone with so much experience. Tonight sees him 180 minutes – maybe 270 – away from rectifying that to some extent and filling a gaping hole on his CV.
I hope he does it. Selfishly because Arsenal win a European trophy and the football romantic in me likes to see happy endings. As happy as it can be when one party has been quite obviously told to do one. “Not really my decision,” is as close as Arsène will ever come to admitting he was told he would be replaced this summer.
Not that Arsenal were having that. No, the club statement said, get a grip; he was only talking about the timing of his departure. I see. Arsène seemed to agree although undermining the club’s words when he issued a clarification last night, “After reaching agreement about my departure…”; this from a man who never broke a contract.
Gawd bless ‘im for still providing some amusement to the last. Schadenfreude or a middle finger to the executioner? Who knows? Arsène knows, of course.
I just hope he knows how to beat Atletico Madrid.
I Didn’t Get Where I am Today by Thinking
He declared they “don’t have any weaknesses”. They do but does he know their kryptonite and have a pocketful of the stuff?
I am looking for a clean sheet and win in that order tonight; a goalless draw is a good result, putting pressure on Atletico for the second leg. However, we must get our act together defensively in the second leg. If we go 2 – 0 down in Madrid, game over; they won’t be as accommodating as CSKA’s defence.
That is my concern for this tie. I think we can score, but at the back, we creak more than Shakin’ Stevens ol’ house. No amount of paint is going to disguise the fact that we have major problems keeping the ball out of our net. Ospina or Cech; Mustafi and Koscielny; these are not names which fill me with confidence when I see them in the Arsenal starting line-up and a good team is in town.
We’re lax enough against bad teams so why expect more against better ones? We’re consistent, you have to say that.
Which diverts attention to the attacking side of our game. The return of Mesut Özil to the XI is a welcome relief, providing the ammunition for Ramsey and Lacazette. Danny Welbeck will start as well; divining by UEFA press conferences works thanks to their rule that players must be in the starting line-up.
And he spoke well. His head is screwed on; Arsène’s announcement doesn’t change a thing about wanting to win as far as he is concerned. We’ve always schooled the players immaculately when it comes to their media dealings.
What would be really good is if we screwed Aubameyang’s feet onto Welbeck’s legs, making him prolific for a couple of nights. We can but dream.
I Didn’t Get Where I am Today by Waffling
Which Arsenal will turn up? The motivated one of Welbeck’s words or the funereal XI of the weekend? I think the former; we were against Chelsea in once again meaningless League Cup. Yes, we rode our luck at Stamford Bridge but over the course of the tie, we weren’t overwhelmed by a team which has done so in the past.
It’s that determination and attitude we need tonight. I think we will miss Mohamed Elneny, and we get the question of how much influence he’s had on Granit Xhaka’s form, answered. The Swiss international is probably in his best form since joining and needs to be disciplined in his defensive work, something he and Aaron Ramsey sometimes struggle with.
The line-up I’d expect at kick-off is:
Cech; Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Ramsey, Xhaka; Özil, Wilshere, Welbeck; Lacazette
It’s good enough to win, it’s bad enough to be humbled in a Bayern-stylee. Which Arsenal will turn up?
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.