Friday, 16 February 2018

Arsenal Half Way There After 3-0 Win At Ostersund

Arsenal played the first leg of their Europa League round of 32 tie away to Ostersund in Sweden yesterday evening. It looked like it could be a tricky game on the face of it on an artificial surface and in the freezing cold, but it turned out to be a fairly routine affair. Before Ostersund realised we aren’t actually very good away from home we were already 2-0 up and the task was too much for them.

Arsene Wenger went pretty much with the expected team as he chose David Ospina in goal, Ainsley Maitland-Niles in midfield and Danny Welbeck in attack. It was a bit of a surprise to see Calum Chambers in the centre of the defence, but maybe he took the opportunity to give Laurent Koscielny a much needed two week break. I would have liked to have seen Sead Kolasinac play at left back too, but it’s going to take an awful lot to shift Nacho Monreal on current form.

It was good to see Maitland-Niles get a shot in his preferred central midfield role and I thought he did reasonably well all things considered. He still has plenty to learn, but I definitely think he shows real promise. He was accompanied by Mohamed Elneny in midfield and maybe it might have been better for him if Jack Wilshere or Aaron Ramsey played with him, but neither of them were in the squad.

With Mesut Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan pulling the strings for Arsenal it was always going to be an uphill battle for the home team. They didn’t help themselves by more or less handing us the first two goals through a goalkeeping error and an own goal and we utterly dominated them for the first 25 minutes or so. They came back into the game after that second goal and made a couple of semi decent chances before the break as they tried to make Ospina earn his pay.

The second half was a more even affair, but that man Ozil increased our lead and Ostersund tired as the game petered out which is hardly surprising for a team who’s season has not yet begun. Maybe we could have added to our lead, but at least we managed to keep a clean sheet thanks mainly to Ospina. Hector Bellerin gave a penalty away right at the death, but to the shock and amazement of all Arsenal fans an Arsenal goalkeeper saved a penalty. 

It had been almost four years since the last penalty save by an Arsenal keeper and even longer since Petr Cech saved a penalty. Maybe Ospina could take him aside in training and show what it takes to save a penalty because he has never even looked like saving one. That save gives us a little bit of extra breathing space in the second leg which could come in very handy.

We don’t play again until that second leg, but we do have a Carabao Cup Final against City only three days later. With a three goal lead we can probably leave one or two players out of the team in the second leg so they can be fully ready for that cup final. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Monreal and Ozil on the bench, but Mkhitaryan will certainly play as he is cup tied in the Carabao cup.

Elsewhere I don’t think there will be too many changes with Welbeck more than likely to play up front with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang set to play in the cup final. I think the likes of Bellerin, Shkodran Mustafi, Chambers, Mohamed Elneny, Alex Iwobi and Maitland-Niles are all capable of playing on the Thursday night and on the following Sunday too if required. It might not be our strongest team for the second leg, but with a three goal lead to protect it should be more than good enough to see us progress.

All in all last night had plenty of positives even if the performance was far from spectacular. We won and kept a clean sheet away from home and we even had the audacity to save a penalty to boot. Ostersund have done very well at home to some good teams in the Europa League this season, but we were never in any real danger of succumbing to them and adding to their list of famous victories and draws.

It’s still going to be a huge task to win the Europa League this season with a much better line up in the last 32 of the competition this season compared to last season. It’s not totally beyond us though because we have become very much a cup side in the last four or five seasons with Sunday week’s game our fourth final in five seasons. At the moment we have won all of them, but City are a much more difficult prospect and winning the Europa League probably is too.

That’s it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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