Morning friends, I hope this Friday finds yo as well as could be, and that those of yo with heart conditions managed to make it through the game yesterday unscathed. Me? Well, let’s just say that the air was a bit blue with the sound of the colourful language I was using when that second goal went in. So much so that I think the Management even went upstairs to iron rather than watch Arsenal implode again!
Thankfully they didn’t, but before we get into the eventual success that was qualification to the semi final against either Atletico, Salzburg or Marseille, let’s have a look at some of the tripe that we were served with up until that Welbeck goal made us all breathe a little easier.
The first 15 minutes was something I’d highlighted as a pivotal point in the game because I thought CSKA would come out and have a proper go at us. I didn’t expect what we got though; a timid Russian side who looked very familiar to Oostersunds FK when we played them in our first leg away from home. CSKA pressed a little bit in the middle of the park but they didn’t play a high line and didn’t really seem to be committing too many men forward. As I sat there sipping at my Chairman’s Reserve and Cola I began to feel a little comfortable, even though Jack Wilshere was conspiring to lose the ball more than anything else and we’d hardly even seen Welbeck or Lacazette.
We looked like we were trying to control the game though. Not overly committing ourselves forward, not driving bodies in between an ageing CSKA Moscow team and never really looking like we wanted to do anything other than keep a shape and keep CSKA at arms length.
The problem with this Arsenal team however is that we simply don’t know how to play like that. Defensively we simply aren’t good enough to shut out a game and although it seemed like only warning shots had been fired across our bow unutil the goal, the momentum and feel of the game completely swung the second that the goal was headed in. And it felt like an avoidable goal. Elneny could have closed down the crosser quicker, Monreal was weak in the air, then all of the defenders were not alive quick enough to Cech’s save. It felt like a poor goal to concede but not only that, it also felt like we suddenly had no idea how to handle the match.
CSKA’s tails were up and we wilted. I can’t remember the last time I wanted halftime to arrive but even after we’d got back in and tried to re-group with a slight shift in formation, we looked nervous and rickety. Passing was wayward, Wilshere continued to give the ball away or get too easily nudged off the ball, Welbeck was virtually anonymous and Ozil was having one of those games where he looks like he doesn’t really want to be there. Don’t get me wrong he still had plenty of ball, had a few decent flicks, but some of them just didn’t come off and you could see the frustration in his own performance.
If we were nervous when the first went in, once the second was scored we were absolutely sh*tting ourselves. Again I’m afraid you have to look at Cech for the poor save to parry it out into a dangerous part of the pitch instead of out wide, but the fact that no Arsenal player seemed to react to the rebound was a poor show by my reckoning. But that’s what we were like all night. We seemed to second to every second ball and that allowed CSKA to have a lot more possession and create some very good chances, including one a few minutes before our goal that game from a half-hearted attempt at defending led to a ball whistling past Cech’s right hand post.
I must admit that given all we’ve seen in European competition this week I feared the absolute worst last night. Then stepped forward Danny Welbeck with an assist from the excellent Mo Elneny. A nice little one-two and Welbeck finishing like Henry in his prime is what we’ve always wanted to see from the England International, but it just hasn’t been frequent enough, but like any good forward worth his salt he took one of his only chances of the night brilliantly and you could visibly see the CSKA players deflate. It was the perfect tonic to what had been a turgid performance up until that point but from thereon in it was Arsenal hitting CSKA on the counter again and again and eventually Elneny decided to put this game to bed with a great ball in to Rambo and another deft flick from the Welshman. He loves a little flicked goal, doesn’t he? He can be so calm and composed in front of goal and we’re seeing the return of the 2013/14 vintage. That was a fine year.
The argument could be had that it’s difficult to know whether to ‘stick’ or ‘twist’ when you’ve got such a large first leg lead, but really it shouldn’t have been in question last night. I didn’t think CSKA were any great shakes if I’m honest and should the players have tried to be a little less introverted in their play then I think we cold have made life a lot easier for ourselves. There are some worrying signs like Wilshere’s form or the way we all collectively gasped when Rambo went down the tunnel – showing the reliance we have on him – but ultimately we’re in the pot for the draw today.
And that’s all we should be taking right now. We have a few week’s before the next game and a few more Premier League games to play. So we’ve got to get ourselves into momentum building mode and hopefully we can pick up some confidence on our way to a semi final of a European competition. In terms of who we face I would rather avoid Atletico because I just think they are better than us over two legs. In a one-off game any kind of performance is possible, but it feels like we need to avoid them in this round, then hope for a big game in the final if we were to get there. Of course that blatantly means we’re getting them in the draw for the semis. You can thank me later. Not!
Catch you beautiful people tomorrow.