Well now folks, this is it, pretty much, for this season, by my reckoning. Fail to perform tonight hand get a win (or a high scoring draw) and Arsenal go out to a team who have just had it confirmed that they have a racist captain and who never really offered much at The Emirates yet came away with a precious away goal. As soon as that late equaliser went in I feared that might prove to be one of the key moments over the two legs and as I sit here now Thursday morning typing out some pre-match thoughts, I am wondering if I will be thinking the same tomorrow morning.
I hope not. The hope is that The Arsenal turn up in Prague today with a very clear intention and drive about what they need to do come 8pm UK time. If you can look at this situation we find ourselves in with a ‘glass half full’ mentality, you could could argue that what we have tonight gives more understanding and clarity compared to the Olympiakos game at the Emirates a few weeks back. We’d won comfortably away from home, we needed an almighty balls up in order to go out and perhaps that played on the players minds’, psychologically. But tonight there is no such psychology that exists because if they replicate that form from when we played the Greeks in the second leg, then we are most certainly going out this evening.
My next thought to myself is “well if they play like they did against Slavia in the last game they are going out too” but we had the chances to win it. You have to hope that we can’t be THAT profligate two games in a row. We hit the post, the bar, had Saka one-on-one, we got in behind. But our decision-making on the night was appalling. We have to hope it isn’t the same this evening. We need those players to take their chances when they get them.
As it stands we are going out right now. Slavia Prague have the away goal advantage and it will be interesting to see what mindset they adopt tonight. They play a high pressing intensity game domestically and that under normal circumstances will be their modus opperandi even against clubs like us in Europe normally. But seeing us cut them apart in the first leg at times will have given food for thought of the Slavia manager and I just wonder if they will try to enact the low block football we have been accustomed to seeing against Arteta’s Arsenal. They will know that we haven’t really dealt too well with it when teams have sat in, tucked in, let us have it and then sprung the counter. The best example of the was Leicester City at home in the league. I wonder if Slavia’s game plan tonight is to replicate that and if it is then I fear we might be in for a long and frustrating evening.
So we need an answer. The good news is that at least Arteta has a few more options confirmed than I worried about yesterday. Saka and Smith Rowe are fit and they trained yesterday. Brilliant stuff. However Aubameyang and Odegaard didn’t. That says to me that they’ll be unlikely to make it to the starting line up and at best we’re probably looking at them both from the bench. But it’s a tough one for Mikel because if he plays them, they break down and we get through, then it means we miss them for more games. It means he has to take a sensible and pragmatic view. Test the players, ask them, ask them again, look deep in to their eyes and see if they just want to play and might still be nursing some discomfort. Then make your decision.
My gut feel from a team line up perspective is that we’ll see Leno in sticks, Bellerin, Holding, Gabriel and Cedric as the back four. You could argue a case for Xhaka but I am not sure we want him isolated against Sima or Olayinka. Any of Slavia’s attacking players to be fair, because Xhaka isn’t winning any one-on-one foot race any time soon. So I would rather have him and Partey in midfield with the Portuguese at left back under strict instructions not to put his centre halves under pressure if he finds the ball in the corner with a minute to go and we’re winning.
In front of them you have to go Smith-Rowe and Saka, but it’ll be interesting to see where. My first thought is Smith-Rowe centre and Saka wide right, but he did a good job against Sheffield United and if you move Saka centre, shift Smith-Rowe across to the left, you can fit in Pepe for that extra spark of creativity that Willian absolutely 100% does not offer. The other option is Martinelli wide left with Saka right and ESR through the middle. Either Martinelli or Pepe work for me. Just don’t play Willian. Please.
That’s especially so if Lacazette starts because Auba isn’t fit. Lacazette and Willian isn’t exactly the dynamic duo, but if we surround Lacazette with runners then perhaps he can make a better fist of his performance than he did in the first leg. We have to hope so because I do think it will be the Frenchman who starts tonight. We need the one that bagged two against Sheffield United though, not the hapless plodder that took a week to run through on goal against Slavia.
The maths are simple. Win the match. But Arsenal and ‘simple’ are the antithesis of each other. They go together like chalk and cheese. Some I’m expecting a stressful evening this evening.
I just home i’m smiling by the time I go to bed.