I hope that this morning when you woke up you hugged your children a little bit tighter than you usually do. Because unless Arsenal progress this evening against a Valencia side who fancy their chances up against our awful defence, then we’re in a whole world of trouble, of biblical proportions.
Last night’s result means the single worst cup final in the history of the world gets played out at the end of May and if we get knocked out to Valencia this evening it might just go down as the worst month in the history of the club in recent memory. Especially when you think about the capitulation domestically in the league too. I know that was just one game in the Brighton match but it represented the end of our top four hopes and so now we face the worst possible situation in the Champions League.
This feels like a season rapidly going south.
So it’s up to this Arsenal team to pull out two stellar performances. One tonight that would see us through, then one in Baku that could see us beat Chelski. And given what has happened in the other European competition you just know Chelski will go through tonight at a canter.
So tonight the success of the season can be measured on how this Arsenal team performs. We have a two goal advantage, Valencia have to come at us, but we can’t defend so I hope Emery is bold in search of that away goal and if some of our better players turn up tonight then we are capable of getting it. And if we do I’d fancy that we can look to hit Valencia on the counter as they pile forward looking for more.
The team news looks as good as we can hope and I’d be surprised if we didn’t see Cech in goal, a back three of Sokratis, Koscielny and Monreal, with Maitland-Niles and Kolasinac as the wing backs. The central midfield simply must contain Xhaka and Torreira and behind Aubameyang and Lacazette the only question is who plays. Ordinarily I’d be saying Özil in a heartbeat but he hasn’t really been in form of late and as is the stereotype he is living up to for a luxury player, he’s certainly not been doing it away from home.
The only problem is that in Mkhitaryan and Iwobi we have two players who are even more painfully out of form and so I suspect Emery will still go with the German. I just hope he puts in a masterclass today. We know he’s capable of it. He just hasn’t shown it enough.
That back line will decide the picture of the tie though and if they can minimise their brain-fart moments like we did against Napoli, then maybe we have a chance of progression. There’s no doubt we’ll be missing Ramsey’s energy tonight but that is where somebody like Torreira needs to set the tone. We need him to be at his industrious best and I hope that means closing space, winning the ball and feeding Xhaka or Özil so they can spot the runs of the front men.
But what will also be key tonight is not to leave Laca and Auba isolated. When we do that it doesn’t usually end well for us. So we need players to ensure that they have support when in attack. Ramsey acted as a perfect link man between the two and so tonight somebody else needs to step up.
Valencia will likely look to Parejo to be their creative spark in midfield and so I’m hoping that Torreira is a busy bee around him this evening. They’ll probably hit us with a 4-4-2 and that’ll see Rodgrio and Gameiro up top. Normally I believe they prefer to play on the counter so it will be interesting to see how they approach tonight because they’ll have to come at us. I don’t think it’ll be a case of looking to draw us in but what they might try to do more of from the first leg is to get in behind our wing backs and expose us with balls from out wide. In the first 15 minutes of the first leg they got plenty of joy from that so I’m expecting them to have studied the way we play and realise we have a slow defensive back three who can be got at.
I just hope we’re positioned better than we have been in the last few games and if you take the goal Valencia did score you can see that it’s a weakness they have the height and physicality to exploit.
This is it for us now. It feels very much like a lot of Arsenal fans are teetering on the brink when it comes to Emery and a defeat – especially a limp one like we saw away to Everton, Wolves and Leicester – will probably have a fair few turning on him before the season ends too. He needs to get these players fired up. He needs to make sure they put in another display like the away day in Naples. He needs to show us that his methods can guide Arsenal to success.
We need to hope he knows what he’s doing.
Catch you tomorrow.