This is it then. A whole season distilled down to one football match in which the success or failure will be viewed. All through the prism of a European Cup final.
I’ve seen one in my lifetime, witnessed three heartbreaking ones, so I’m very aware of our record in Europe and very aware that this game could end up being a painful night for us Gooners.
But this is what we live for. Cup finals, trophies, it’s what we all want to see every season and The Arsenal have certainly given us plenty of opportunities by getting to cup finals. Even if they lead to heartbreak like last seasons League Cup.
Chelski have won this competition and the European Cup in recent years and that was painful to watch, but if they win it tonight, it will be a double blow given it compounds our own misery. Which is why we really really need Unai Emery to sprinkle some of his magic Europa League dust on the game tonight. He’s the guy who won it three times in a row with Sevilla and did it against a Klopp flavoured Liverpool team. That can give us some cause for optimism because it should suggest he knows what it takes to at least get his side prepared in the best possible fashion.
But whilst preparation is key, execution is more vital, so all Arsenal fans have to hope that the players go out there and execute his game plan tonight.
It won’t be easy. Ramsey feels like a massive loss today and I hope that injury picked up in Naples doesn’t come back to bite us, because having him in the team sitting on Jorginho at the base of the Chelski midfield was a key component of the victory at home a few months back.
In that game we scored first, relatively early, and it feels like the same needs to happen today. Arsenal chasing a game is a very different psychological side to Arsenal in control of one by getting the early goal. In that game at The Emirates we let Chelski have the ball as soon as they were ahead. We let them pass themselves to death and the fact that we were two up meant we had a cushion. To win tonight it feels like we are going to need to have some form of replication in which we go ahead and ask them to break us down.
That in itself is also a worrying prospect because our defence is often an accident waiting to happen. In the game at The Emirates Emery went with a back four and a diamond formation. Yesterday as the journalists watched the players train on the pitch they said they saw Cech playing the ball out from the back in what was a back four. I’m not so sure Emery is going to go down that route tonight however. If we had Ramsey fit then I think certainly he would, but without him I’m just not sure who can be given detail on Jorginho. So I think Emery might go with a back three and wing backs again. I suspect that means Koscielny, Sokratis and Monreal, with Kolasinac and Maitland-Niles either side of them.
Midfield would then be Xhaka and Torreira and that leaves Özil, Aubameyang and Lacazette as the attacking players. And I really want Özil to step up and show us the player he is, not the player we’ve seen this season. I want precision passing, defence-splitting passing, passing the likes of which no other player can provide. We haven’t seen enough of that from Özil this season but we know he’s capable. It’s time he stepped up and showed that he can do it. And do it on the big stage in a cup final.
Chelski appear to have their own problems and with Hudson-Odoi, Loftus-Cheek, as well as Ruidiger injured for the final, they have to shuffle a bit I suspect. Lots of people are saying that Kante’s ‘injury’ is just mind games and we’ll see tonight if he starts, but David Ornstein isn’t one prone to hyperbole and he said that Kante was hobbling in the training session. If he’s missing that will be a blow for Chelski but let’s not forget what happened a few years ago in the cup final. We were missing a host of defenders and had to opt for youngster Holding and Mertesacker given the injury of Mustafi and suspension of Koscielny. Nobody gave us a hope but we pulled out one of the best performances of recent years and Chelski are capable of that. Of that I am in no doubt.
They also have the best player on the pitch in terms of Hazard, surely playing his last game for the club, in which we have rarely been able to deal with over the years. And I suspect he’ll have an impact tonight, probably scoring, or diving to get an Arsenal player sent off. It’s what he does.
If he does score then it means we need at least two, probably three, to get the result tonight. Chelski may not be as defensively sound as they were just a few years back under Conte when they won the league, but amongst the big teams you rarely see sides score three or more goals. It’s usually decided by one and usually these matches have a couple of goals in them, max. So the emphasis on a better defensive performance cannot be understated today.
Does our back line have it in them? Can they focus and not have brain fart moments? I’m not so sure. I hope so, but I’m not convinced, so hopefully I can be proved wrong.
This game has so many narratives behind it that I don’t even know what to think. Cech’s last game, Hazard’s last game, Arsenal’s last chance of Champions League football for next season, a summer of woe and transfer paucity if we lose, another European Cup Final heartbreak, heck, we could even have a horrible situation of Giroud coming on and scoring the winner against us. That would be a horrible thing.
I guess what it will come down to is which team is the most desperate to win.
Well Arsenal? How desperate are you?