I guess it all worked out in the end. So we can be pleased we’re still in the hat. But my word we don’t half have to huff and puff to get results at the moment.
After the debacle that was the away first leg to BATE, one could forgive us Arsenal fans for feeling a little bit of trepidation ahead of what had become a knockout game that we really didn’t expect to be so. This match was supposed to be an Arsenal Select XI but with goals needed Unai reverted back to a back four and placed Xhaka and Guendouzi in the middle of the park with Özil roaming in front of them. Iwobi and Mkhi flanked Aubameyang and after maligning the fact that Emery is being too conservative with his team selection against so-called inferior opposition, this was finally a team selection that would allow us to ‘release the handbrake’ a little.
And for the first ten minutes it felt just like that. The early goal – brought about by good work from Auba on the right, settled the nerves and as the players trotted back to their positions for the restart it felt like this was going to be an Arsenal team that wanted to prove a point.
Except that didn’t really happen. I mean, we controlled possession, we dominated chances, but we still left holes in our defence and when a looping ball to the back post got beyond Cech only for one of the back line to clear off the line, it felt as if the nerves were returning for a team that looks visibly short on confidence at the moment.
Still, this BATE team are poor and let’s be honest the second goal – greeted with rigorous fist pumping from Unai – was a welcome relief. And it was that man Mustafi nodding in. He scares the bejebus out of us all defensively but he does chip in with a few goals in the season and this one felt well timed.
The reaction of the manager probably also showed that he’s feeling the pressure and so the fact we were able to go in to the second half knowing that we were through providing no more brain farts from our back line gave relief to all.
In truth it didn’t really change the narrative of the tie because BATE probably knew they were always going to have to score. So all they really needed was a breakaway attempt and let’s face it; this Arsenal team love to give hope when all around it seems lost.
Step forward Sokratis with a very good header and even though the ‘keeper had a shocker in trying to get to it, our raging Greek was there to nod in and basically turn the rest of the game in to a little bit of a testimonial feel.
So, to the talking points, in which Mesut Özil will invariably be one today. I thought he was good, not spectacular, but most of the team were like that. I’ve got a match day group of mates on a WhatsApp thread that message each other and the feeling from a few was that he was average. I think he’s probably going to need more matches to get his rhythm back but whether he gets the opportunity remains to be seen.
The other question on the group which I will contest is the performance of Mkhitaryan. I actually think he was lively and had a pretty good game. Again, like Özil, he wasn’t spectacular and for £200k a week you’d always want more, but given some of the performances we’ve had from him this season I saw it as a decent step forward.
Iwobi on the other side of the pitch was also okayish I thought. He had some very bright moments and some wasteful moments but as we all know that is his game. So I think given that I’ve given him a fair bit of stick in recent months it should only be fair to acknowledge that he was good in patches last night.
But that’s this Arsenal team I’m afraid. We only seem to show flashes of what we think the players are capable of and that’s why we’re in the position we’re in now and not fighting for at least the top three spots. We’re too inconsistent. That is something Emery has acknowledged and it’s something we need to get a handle on of we’re going to stand a chance of getting in to the top four through either league or cup success.
Let’s hope Unai has some more answers for Sunday too.
Catch you lovely people tomorrow.