Ok I’m going to just go ahead and say it this morning:

Anyone else have some slight regrets over the departure of Olivier Giroud?

After he exited in that January window we signed Aubameyang. I don’t think there was a single Arsenal fan who thought we now didn’t have an upgraded attack with Aubameyang joining and Lacazette with him. But as time has worn on, as Giroud has shown that he is a valuable and apparently evergreen option for Chelski, I can’t help but pine for him a little bit.

Not in the space of Aubameyang, mind, but certainly in the space of Lacazette. The club made the moves in the wrong order, in my opinion, that’s for sure. In that summer we signed Lacazette there were rumours that Aubameyang was available for around £75million. We ended paying £52.6million for Lacazette and then in the January we paid £56million for Aubameyang. We sold Giroud for £18million which makes a net spend of £90.6million. So in effect we’d have saved ourselves £15.6million and maybe that could have been reinvested in the team elsewhere.

Given what we’ve all seen from Lacazette and Giroud respectively, would it not have just have been better to cough up more for Auba in that summer and keep Giroud as a rotation option? He would certainly have got more game time, I’m sure would have been happy with his place and given that Auba and Laca have played a lot together in the same side, he too probably would have played even more football than at Chelski.

At his age we would also be able to justifiably been winding him down and we know that he would have got less games as Nketiah and maybe even Balogun get more time to shine.

Why am I bringing this all up though? Why am I playing the ‘hindsight’ card when all it serves to do is wind us all up? Well, it’s not just to highlight that he scored a great goal last night and has continued to be a very good asset for Chelski way into his mid-30s, but also that he’s such a different option that I think could have thrived better than Lacazette in the central position he is occupying, as well as the fact that we made some really shocking transfer decisions in the last five years. Terrible even.

The squad building of this Arsenal team has been nothing short of appalling in recent years and that is why – with Leeds winning last night – we slipped to 11th. It could get worse because on Saturday Wolves go to Newcastle who are in a dreadful run of form, Crystal Palace are at home to Fulham, who you’d expect them to beat, whilst we play Leicester. By Sunday night we could be in 13th and despite the fact that we’ve seen some better performances from this Arsenal team this side of Christmas, it is hard to look at the season so far and feel like progress has been made domestically in any way, shape or form.

I am not turning on Arteta. I want him to succeed and I hope he can. I have a belief that he is the right man, but in the cold light of day if we get to the 38 game part and we are 10th -14th in the league, it will be hard to look in isolation in that and say that he has had anything other than a failure of a season domestically.

It is why the Europa League is brought in to such sharp contrast and it is why tomorrow night’s game feels like it is season defining. In fact, every Europa League game we play before now and the end of the season will be season defining, because we have been nowhere good enough in the league and made a pretty average attempt at defending our domestic cup ambitions. Football can turn on a knife edged in terms of the context of a season and if Arteta wins the Europa League all will be forgotten. But that is a massive ask. That’s because teams who are still in the competition that I genuinely fear could beat us as they are potentially better than us include (in no particular order):

  • Tottenham (you may laugh but they are still a good team and let’s not forget we haven’t beaten them in our last six matches)
  • Ajax (not long ago finalists in this competition and in the semi final of the Champions League)
  • Napoli (currently patchy form but are a big team and will be a very tough opponent)
  • Hoffenheim (have become a bit of a mid table team this season, but currently sit in 11th just like us)
  • Leicester (we play them on Sunday and have already lost to them this season. They are a better team than us right now)
  • Villarreal (managed by Emery, who you just know will find his Europa League mojo when we play them)
  • AC Milan (second in the Serie A table and with Zlatan still doing the business, this is a team I fear a lot more than most)
  • Man United (again, like Leicester, they are above us in the table for a reason and whilst we have beaten them at Old Trafford, you don’t really want to go up against them again)
  • Roma (fourth in Serie A and will again prove a really tough opponent to crack)
  • Bayer Leverkusen (fifth in the Bundesliga and a side I would be wary about playing – feels like they are better than they are)
  • Olympiakos (knocked us out last season, currently 4-2 up on PSV on aggregate).

So in the round of 16, if we were able to progress, there are 11 teams I would not ideally want to face. The odds are probably stacked in favour of another English team and with that we may not have to travel, but i’d have the feeling that we will be the underdogs to progress. Even if we did progress, you’d say the round of eight would probably have five or six of those teams above who have got there, so it looks like our route to the final will essentially be really tough opponents after really tough opponents.

That’s why I wonder how long it will be before all of the eggs get chucked in the Europa League basket and if Mikel will start a more widespread rotation in the League. If we win tomorrow night then I think it becomes a very real possibility.

Catch you all tomorrow.