Arsenal 3 – 0 BATE Borisov
If Mesut Ozil wants to know what life is like post-Arsenal, he could do worse than look at Alex Hleb. Selling the Belorussian to Barcelona remains the staggering achievement of the previous regime. Essentially, we sold them Iniesta without the inventiveness and goals.
But he returned to applause last night and received rapturous applause which I don’t begrudge him at all. It raises the question why he, who let’s not forget met with Inter Milan in an ice-cream parlour, is deemed less treacherous than Cesc or Robin van Persie?
If you’re feeling sentimental, I’m guessing Villarreal is your ideal draw in the next round. Maybe Santi can come onto the pitch in the same way they announced his return to the Spanish club? Get him stood on the touchline in a chamber consumed by dry ice?
Maybe we could do that for all substitutes? “And who is coming on? Is it Sokratis? Xhaka? No, it’s the killer rabbit!”
The Hleb applause was a distraction to a second leg which proved to be fairly routine, apart from one moment requiring a goal-line clearance to get us out of gaol with just a 1 – 0 lead.
Any doubts that this would be Arsenal’s night were quickly extinguished. You don’t waste the opportunity a third-minute own goal gives you. At that moment, you could see the slump in the players and coach’s demeanour. Plan A was out the window a lot earlier than expected.
And from there, we took our time and wasted plenty of good opportunities to add to the lead, finishing with goals from Mustafi and Sokratis. Both from set-pieces, both courtesy of poor defending. So much for needing a creative edge on
Ice Ice Baby
There was a downside. Laurent Koscielny ended the night with ice packed around his calf. Unai Emery assured us that neither the calf or Achilles tendon was “broken”. God bless him for making it sound like all Koscielny needs is some Gorilla glue to make it better.
Which brings us round to the ‘Ö’ word. So, Mesut, how was it for you? We looked more cohesive at times but with the same vulnerabilities. It was a good night for Özil to return; a lot of possession of ball against a team determined to defend but lacking the ability to provide stubborn opposition. I’d say we played at about 60-70% of our capabilities. Or given our current form, 90-95%.
The chief benefit was the one we expected; there was a link between the defence and attack rather than a gaping hole valiantly filled by Matteo Guendouzi quite literally covering every blade of grass on the Emirates turf.
Emery mentioned Guendouzi post-match:
His development is like we want, he has big ambition and big quality and sometimes we need more quality with him and sometimes we need to be stronger in midfield with different matches, it depends. His development with us is very important and he is playing with consistency and I think he is improving. The quality of his football is very important for us and for me.
Which I think means Guendouzi is playing well.
Ozil got the rehashed training rather than handing in a note from mum routine. The indications are that Emery remains unconvinced by the German, not in terms of ability but in commitment to the squad, to the grand plan. Maybe that stems from being told he can leave or should leave; who knows?
As Good As It Gets
The draw has been made and we face Rennes in the Round of Sixteen with the first leg at the Emirates. Extensive scouting of the Ligue Un club is probably already on social media so forgive me if I pass on that for now.
Chelsea drew Dynamo Kiev which is a throwback to another age. That was the good news this morning having been hit with a two-window transfer ban for illegal deals over youngsters. Think of it as FIFAs version of Operation Yew Tree. Or of Chelsea as football’s Rolf Harris; it was teenagers after all.
And on that bad taste note, I’ll wish you adieu.