The events in Rome last night showed how dangerous an away goal can be with Barcelona going out on away goals despite their 4-1 win in their home leg. On the other hand Liverpool showed the advantage of keeping a clean sheet in the home leg when they managed to put City out of the Champions League. CSKA will have to score at least three times to have any chance of going through, but any goals from us will make their task so much harder.
We certainly looked like we had done our homework on them last week when we used the width of the pitch to get in behind a back line that has played for more years than they care to remember. Of course they had done their homework on us too and they caused us a lot of problems at the back and far more than we should be comfortable with. However, I think they have even more to worry about considering how easily we took them apart last week.
Arsene Wenger will pick the strongest team available to him, but he does have a few injury worries to concern him. Firstly Granit Xhaka hasn’t travelled due to illness which is a big blow to the balance in our midfield, but it should see the inclusion of Mohamed Elneny. He has looked good in his recent outings and he probably offers more in the defensive aspect of the game, but Xhaka has been an intrical part of the upturn in our attacking play in our last six games.
I wouldn’t have been surprised to see Elneny in from the start for Jack Wilshere considering the recent form of both players, but Wilshere has a chance to silence the doubters in this game. Aaron Ramsey will come back into the team after being rested at the weekend and he was one of the players who caused CSKA so many problems last week. I don’t think we’ll see him getting forward quite so often in this game, but I won’t be surprised to see him get on the scoresheet either.
With Henrikh Mkhitaryan out for roughly the next month after the knock he took in the game last week there’s a chance for either Alex Iwobi or Danny Welbeck to play from the start. I’ve been very impressed by Mkhitaryan since he joined us in January and I think he plays very well with Mesut Ozil. I wasn’t sure we could accommodate both of them in the same team, but I think opponents find it difficult to keep track of the creativity of both of them at the same time.
Sometimes Ozil can be curtailed by putting an extra man on him or closing him down quickly, but it’s hard to do that to both of them at the same time. I hope we can get Mkhitaryan back if we progress as far as the final, but I imagine there’s every chance his season is over. His absence puts more pressure on Ozil and he will make the difference if he can play half as well as he did last week.
We should also see Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal come back into the defence and they are our two best and most experienced defenders despite some of the mistakes Koscielny in particular has made in recent games. As a team we are broken defensively and it’s hard to believe we can play well enough in defence to actually win the Europa League, but we can certainly get through tonight. The ages of Koscielny, Monreal and Petr Cech suggest all of them haven’t too long left in their careees and we need to invest heavily in defenders as well as finding a way to coach the team how to defend an awful lot better.
I mentioned earlier about the choice between Welbeck and Iwobi in place of the injured Mkhitaryan. I think it will go the way of Iwobi as he can offer more creativity and I was impressed by his performance against Southampton on Sunday. He’s a player who divides opinion, but I think his ability to make chances and play deeper than Welbeck will see him play.
I’m not exactly Welbeck’s biggest fan, but he has to be admired for his ability to recover from one injury after another. Despite my misgivings about him he has gradually got better since his most recent return from injury and he has bagged his fair share of goals too. If I’m not mistaken only Alexandre Lacazette has scored more goals than Welbeck so far this season.
Speaking of Lacazette he looks so much better since his return from injury and you have to believe his game was being affected by the injury before he was ruled out. He’s eventually looking like the striker we signed last summer and hopefully we can find a way to accommodate both him and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the team next season. I also think the change in the way we have played since the departure of Alexis Sanchez has helped our strikers and the goals are flowing for Lacazette, Aubameyang and Welbeck at the moment.
After the departure of Sanchez it looked like our chances in the Europa League would be limited, but at least we had Mkhitaryan even if Aubameyang was ineligible to play. We now have to do it without Mkhitaryan too and Xhaka is a big loss for me, but I still think we will get the better of CSKA at least.
Hopefully our tie won’t have the drama of the Champions League quarter finals and we can progress with relative ease. Once we progress I’ll be happy though and we can look forward to Friday’s semi final draw if that is the case.
That’s it for today.
See you tomorrow.