The ludicrous kick-off times employed by UEFA bite us on the Arsenal tomorrow with kick-off at ‘how the hell do I get there by then when I finish work at 5.30’ o’clock? For an unpopular tournament, it’s always good to make changes to make it even less well-regarded.
Still, we’re used to seeing banks of empty seats at the Emirates so maybe UEFA thought nobody will notice.
The team news is out and surprisingly there are no injury worries beyond Holding, Bellerin and Welbeck. Mesut Ozil isn’t absent either through back-knack or leaves on the track/runway preventing his timely return to training.
Aaron Ramsey is also back in training and there’s a sense of getting the band back together for a farewell tour or because we don’t have any better options since Alexandre Lacazette is suspended. Will this mean a return to the midfield diamond which decimated Chelsea? These things will be pondered tomorrow, unless I forget about them which, let’s be honest, isn’t beyond the realms of possibility.
Unai Emery talks to the press this afternoon with the key theme being trust. He mentioned it last week after the humiliating defeat in Borisov:
I trust in our players and I trust in our stadium and supporters.
There are two matches. Tonight’s match is important but we can’t [be knocked out in it], we are going to play a second match next week.
I trust in our work to prepare for the next match and to have a different result at Emirates Stadium.Unai Emery launches his Arsenal party manifesto
Frankly, if you trust Shkodran Mustafi as a central defender, you’re mad.
Who Shot The Shot?
The reality is the players must be more efficient in front of goal than we were last week. Kolasinac enjoyed the freedom the city of Borisov on the flanks but this time, with something to defend, BATE are probably going to employ banks of defenders. They would throw in the bodies of the 300 piled up in a wall if they could as well as deploying their team bus and some tanks.
In short, I don’t expect them to even field a centre-forward.
Which means lots of passes across the pitch and penalty area with not much space for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to exploit.
But is there more at stake for Unai Emery? Some want him gone for the way the season panned out, some never wanted him anyway but for the vast majority, he has their support with varying caveats. The football on offer has largely been terrible with either confidence shot to pieces or a genuine failure to comprehend what he is asking of players.
Some of that is down to a lack of belief in the defence; injuries mean Mustafi plays every week despite being hopelessly out of his depth. Compensating for this ineptitude hampers the style of play to some degree.
However, losing this tie? That’s not acceptable and I think, would cost a lot of goodwill for the coach. That’s not to say he should be sacked after one bad result in Europe but it would erode the belief in him and that I think is going to be an issue he must contend with.
But we’re not going to lose so what does it matter. We’re The Arsenal and there’s pride in playing for the club as much as some of the players know they are playing for their futures.
Save The Drama For BBC1
Is that overly dramaic for one match? There’s a cumulative effect at play which masks that Emery is pretty much on par with what was expected of him in terms of results; fifth in the Premier League with a genuine opportunity to finish fourth and through to the knockout stages of the Europa League. We’d have liked a cup run but not this season, nor last which highlights the fragility of those hopes.
The lack of a defined style of play doesn’t help Emery. I mean, I think I know how he wants us to play but nobody is certain and landing Denis Suarez on loan doesn’t exactly feed into that. His Sevilla side from memory attacked swiftly down the flanks with a high-pressing game but we’re a country mile away from that due to personnel. Maybe this summer will make the difference?
On the subject of Suarez, will he start tomorrow? If not, there are 12 Premier League games and (hopefully) some Europa League ties. He’s running out of time to make a convincing case for signing him. At this moment in time, is there any advantage in signing him over keeping Mkhitaryan or Elneny? This is the stage at which he needs to be pushing that claim.