And so here we are my friends. Potentially the last of two ‘big games’ that Arsène Wenger May face as Arsenal manager. The league is done. It’s a procession towards the final stages of his tenure because we have nothing left to play for domestically. It all boils down to Atletico Madrid home and away.
But actually it feels to me that it all boils down to tonight’s game. This is the big one. This is the main even. It’s the main event because we are going to have the shop shut up when we go to Madrid. Atletico don’t concede goals and when they go ahead at home they invariably win.
This is also the hardest team we have played in this competition by an absolute country mile. Madrid are a Champions League quarter-final sort of team at the absolute worst and so to see them as our opponents tonight certainly fills me with trepidation because let’s all be honest with ourselves here: they’re better than us.
So tonight’s game is massive because one feels that the only way that we’re all making the trip to Lyon is if we either a) win without conceding, or b) win so heavily that the second leg is done, so conceding one or two isn’t that bad. A liverpoolesque approach, if you will.
I’d love us to go for option b. If somebody told me today that Arsenal could win 5-2 tonight but I’d have to give up booze, crisps, chocolate, ice cream and sarcasm for a whole month, sod it, I’d lay it all on the line.
Sadly I don’t wield any kind of magical power on the result. Instead all I have is the dreading sense of fear that any pre-match blog and build up at work brings.
But at least we have that feeling again, eh? It’s been so long since that feel of your insides being slowly pulled down to the floor has overcome us for an Arsenal match, that it almost feels good that we have it, because buried under that feeling is excitement and “what if?”
What if all of our big players turn up?
What if Atletico have an off night?
What if we score early?
What if Wenger actually has a plan this time?
That suspense is exciting and so I for one would rather have that than sitting at home avoiding any kind of football patter on the tv or in social.
As for the Arsenal team, it appears that we are all ok from Sunday and so I suspect that means Cech in goal, a back four of Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny and Monreal. Somehow they will have to overcome the daunting prospect of keeping Griezmann, Vitolo, Koke, Gabi, Gameiro and almost inevitably at some stage, Diego Costa.
He’s probably scoring against us as a sub in the last ten minutes, isn’t he? That absolute scummer. Sigh.
Midfield will be interesting because Wenger was probably going to opt for Elneny for solidity and Xhaka and Ramsey in front of him, but the Egyptian’s injury leaves Wenger with a conundrum. It’s a conundrum because whilst Xhaka and Ramsey as a pairing is obvious, it’s the third person alongside Özil and Welbeck behind Lacazette that I can’t work out, mainly because none of them are in form. Iwobi has an absolute shocker on Sunday but before that we had Wilshere who had back-to-back shockers. So who’s going to play? It feels a bit like the ‘lesser of two evils’ and in that sense you’d probably say it should be Jack for his experience. But certainly not his form.
Madrid will play us on the counter. They have enough good passers of the ball that I think they’ll be trying ground-based balls in behind our woeful back four all night. Kind of makes you want to have a sweeper/keeper like Ederson on a night like tonight.
I think Atletico will be all about shape, discipline, wearing this game down into a nothing event and then wanting to take us back to their gaff to wipe us away. Which is why the first 15 minutes becomes so important. Arsenal have to set the tempo and it has to be high. We have to be quick with the ball back to front and we have to see more movement of our attacking players. That means whoever plays out of Jack and Iwobi needs to do more than they’ve done of late and they need to move quickly but also pass and move quickly.
Atletico will be a team very sturdy in their shape and so won’t be pulled around, which means I think Arsenal players need to hunt more in packs and we need more support around each other. The last thing any of us should be seeing tonight is an attack on the right, for example, where Bellerin finds himself alone and with no Arsenal player within 20 yards of him.
I do think that means we need Özil everywhere. He gets about the pitch a lot we all know (or should know by now just by looking at his stats this season and seasons past) but never has that been more important than tonight.
I hope he gives us a performance. We need it from him so much.
Cross everything because we’re going to need the best performance by an Arsenal team this season. Without a shadow of a doubt.
See you on the other side.