Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Arsenal v CSKA Moscow: Europa League Quarter Final First Leg

With the rest of the season a write off at this stage Arsenal at least have a chance to make it to a European Final this season. The Europa League might be the second class trophy of European football, but winning it would be a big thing for Arsenal. Besides the nice shiny trophy the winner also qualifies for next season’s Champions League and it’s the only way Arsenal can make it back to the top table for next season.

Arsene Wenger has almost a full strength squad to choose from with the exception of the injured Santi Cazorla (remember him) and the ineligible Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Petr Cech is available again after missing Sunday’s win against Stoke with an injury and there’s even a chance he might play despite David Ospina being the “cup goalkeeper”. We should also see Laurent Koscielny and Granit Xhaka come back into the team after both of them were rested against Stoke although Xhaka did come on in the later stages.

I would expect to see a back four (which more or less picks itself from the manager’s perspective at least) as the experiment with three central defenders now seems dead more than a year after it saved our season last season. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a midfield trio of Xhaka, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere with Wilshere in an advanced role. That would leave Mesut Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan either side of hopefully Alexandre Lacazette who we have been told has recovered enough from his injury to start.

I’m not so sure Wilshere is the ideal player to play as I can’t say I’ve been impressed with him in the last couple of months, but I would be surprised if he didn’t play. It might not be the worst idea to play Mohamed Elneny alongside Xhaka and let Ramsey play a more attacking role as the chances are he’s going to push forward anyway and he offers a lot more in the attacking third than Wilshere. With both Ozil and Mkhitaryan in the team I’m not sure Wilshere has a place to fill and both of them certainly offer a lot more end product too.

I’m not sure Lacazette will start as he has only had 15 minutes since he returned from his injury and there is every chance Danny Welbeck will get the nod. I’m not a fan of Welbeck and a less than fully match fit Lacazette is a better option in my opinion. Welbeck may well have been the player who managed to see us home in the home game against Milan, but I just cannot see his value to the team.

We are on a pretty good run of results at the moment with four consecutive wins and 11 goals scored in those games and only one conceded. On the face of it that’s quite impressive, but anyone who has watched us knows we have not been exactly impressive in most of those games. I would say the away win against Milan was probably the exception, but I struggle to see how we can win the Europa League playing as we are at the moment.

Don’t get me wrong, I want us to win every game we ever play, but for me the team is broken and it won’t take too much to bring it out again. The arrivals of Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan have certainly improved us in an attacking sense, but nothing has been done to change how badly we defend as a team and as individual players too. If we come up against a team who know how to defend and close their opponents down we will be in trouble and Atletico Madrid are standing in the way of any team who wants to win the Europa League this season.

CSKA will be no pushover either, but we are favourites to progress and rightly so when you look at the players we have. It’s how those players play as a team and how it seems the manager is incapable of inspiring them to excel or coach them to cope against the best sides (or any side away from home this season). I have long ago given up hope of him turning things around and I think the only way forward is for him to leave.

He’s going nowhere though and I still want the team to do the best they can with him in charge. I’d gladly take the glory of a Europa League win even though there’s every possibility it could prolong the manager’s time at the club. That might sound a little strange, but surely it’s not as strange as some fans who seem to want us to lose to hasten his departure.

I think we need to get at least a two goal start from the home leg as a trip to Moscow next week is one that should give us some cause for concern. We have a pretty poor record in European games in Moscow and I wouldn’t like to be going there needing to get a result. I’m not going to dare to predict an outcome, but like always when Arsenal play I honestly think beforehand that they will win despite any or all evidence to the contrary.

That’s it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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