Here we are folks. This game this evening represents – in my opinion – one of the most important in the season for these Arsenal players.
That’s because our horrendous away form invariably means that we are going to struggle at the Mestalla and so unless we win – and win well – tonight, I think we’re going to struggle to be a Champions League side next season.
As an aside, I find it depressing that I and a lot of mates I speak to only want Champions League money so we have a bit more cash to bolster the transfer kitty, rather than the thought that this team can actually win it.
But tonight needs a performance akin to the first leg against Napoli and after three very sobering defeats in a row in the league, how does this team recover, and how do we overcome Valencia?
They’ve got their own problems and are also fighting for a top four spot domestically, but when we spoke to a Spanish football journalist on Monday night’s GunnersTown Radio show he said that Valencia are an organised side. That’s the last thing I wanted to hear because if they are compact and well drilled this evening I think it could be a difficult one.
Napoli were a side drilled to press and left space for us. I don’t see the same happening tonight and as I said in Monday’s show I fear that the concession of an away goal tonight could have a massive bearing on the outcome of this two-legged semi final. Unless of course Arsenal win 4-1 but if Valencia are going to be as organised as we are led to believe then we’re going to find it difficult to rack up the goals.
Which means Unai Emery is going to need to find a combination of defenders who aren’t completely brain dead at the back. You know the kind I’m talking about; those players who when a ball is jumped over the the top they don’t just watch as an opposing striker runs in a straight line ahead of them.
Who he chooses is anybodies guess but at this stage they all seem as bad as each other, so I’m not exactly expectant or hopeful that we’ll keep a clean sheet, although I am praying that it happens.
And if it does then I would really fancy us getting through. So whilst goals are the order of the day I think we do need to make sure we don’t give the likes of Rodrigo and Gameiro the space to punish us.
Valencia’s strength is through their midfield and the man who will dictate their play is Daniel Parejo. He will be the distributor and when the ball turns over in their half he’ll no doubt be the one that Valencia look to give it to. If we were in any kind of form or if we didn’t have players who shirk the high press at times I’d suggest that any of our forward players look to sit on him whenever they can, or perhaps it’s even worth giving Torreira Parejo duty all night.
They’re missing Kondogbia which is handy and Coquelin won’t play this first leg which means he’ll be saving the greatest ever performance of his life for the game at the Mestalla. Perhaps that gives us cause for optimism but after the last week that we’ve had in keeping mine in check.
I just hope we don’t concede. I really hope we don’t concede.
As for us it’s imperative that both our strikers – both of whom I’m hoping will start – have their scoring boots on. That’s not really a problem for them at home and so I hope they can continue the good home form by showing us some tidy finishing against a Spanish team that we don’t exactly have a great record with.
the last time I remember us playing Valencia I think we got done by Carew but I seem to recall that Valencia were a better side than us in those days. This feels like it’s a bit more of an even tie. Which is why the fine margins might prove to be vital and if we prevent Valencia from scoring that away goal then I think our chances of going through increase massively.
I suspect Unai will go with a back three and with Maitland-Niles out for the weekend I would expect him and Kolasinac to start as wing backs with three central defenders. Sokratis will probably play and I kind of expect Mustafi too as well. The third defender will depend on the fitness of Kos and Monreal.
In midfield we have to go Xhaka and Torreira and in front of them I’d have Özil, Aubameyang and Lacazette. That makes up our XI and Mesut Özil is one player I think we need to show up tonight. He needs to put in a performance just like that Leicester City home game because I think we’re going to need a locksmith against a tough but to crack in Valencia.
And finally a bit of sad news which was the announcement that the Napoli away game was Ramsey’s final one in an Arsenal shirt. Absolutely gutting. He’s our cup final specialist and a game like tonight would have been perfect for him because his intensity and performance in the home leg was a reason why we are here in the semi finals. He will be massively missed and it’s just sad that we’ve hit the end of his Arsenal journey with an injury. But I’m sure he’ll be around on Sunday and after the game has finished he’ll get a rousing reception no doubt. Farewell Rambo, our FA Cup winning specialist.