I am going to admit to frustration and disappointment this morning. I really wanted us to go all the way to the Europa League Final. Perhaps my motivation is more from self interest than from what this Arsenal team can and should focus on, but the way I feel this morning, I don’t really feel like I’m having that. This defeat on penalties is hurting me a lot.
My self interest is because I have never been to see Arsenal in a European final. I was desperate to go to Baku but the costs to get there and time off work were just unfeasible. I was too young in 1994 and in 2006 I didn’t have the connections and I wasn’t a season ticket holder. So getting to this final would have been a lot for me personally.
I also believe that the biggest high you can get in football is seeing your team win a trophy. You start the season with the opportunity to win four. We are now down to one, which is arguably the hardest one to win, so in my head and as somebody who likes it – from a football perspective – when we are able to hedge our bets in multiple competitions, we should absolutely do that. I looked at the teams left in the competition and there isn’t one team I feared and last night should have been another step towards that European final. Instead what we got was a team playing in third gear, misplacing passes, looking lethargic and as Arteta said afterwards, not really starting to impose our game until the 70th minute.
That’s poor. Especially at home. This Sporting Lisbon team had the game of their lives, they played like their lives depended on it, yet we played like we were going through the motions, only half interested in progressing to the next round. I’m sure the players didn’t set out to play like that, but the intensity was just not there and that is so disappointing. Winning is habitual but so can losing be. Man City dumped us out of the cup and we then lost to Everton, drew with Bournemouth, then lost to City at home before stabilising ourselves. We didn’t ‘lose’ in regulation time, as such, but any defeat however it comes feels like a loss and now that some of those players have played 120 minutes, it adds even more strain on them for Sunday that I worry about.
A bad night was made worse with the injuries too. Tomiyasu left the stadium on crutches and Arteta said it looks bad. I haven’t read up on the details but it sounds like it was his knee that was impacted and if so we could lose him for the remainder of the season. That puts Ben White as the sole right back and you just have to hope he doesn’t pick up a knock, because if he does then who else comes in? Nelson has played as a right winger years ago, so maybe him? Or you bring in Saliba to right back and play…**shudders**…Rob Holding alongside Gabriel? Whatever way you look at it, last night was pretty much a disaster for us and it started with the mentality of the players. It just wasn’t there and as I’ve already said it just felt like they were going through the motions.
But to some people on my timeline they are absolutely fine with it. “We need to focus on the league” I’ve heard. “We haven’t got the squad to cope with two competitions” I’ve heard. “We have more time in between matches to prepare now” I’ve heard. All pretty rubbish excuses for me because if we play Liverpool away and lose (where we always lose), as well as play City away and lose (where we always lose) and City just keep on winning as they tend to do, then come the end of the season if we don’t have a Europa League Cup final to look forward to we’ll all be saying what a great season it was, but ultimately all that good football and hard work meant the square root of naff all.
This is why I am disappointed this morning, because it feels like this team deserves to have something to show for their excellent performances this season and yet we are now into ‘all eggs in one basket’ territory. And it’s not a very easy basket to keep your eggs in. It is, in fact, the hardest basket to keep those eggs in.
In terms of individual performances, I’m not really sure what to say, other than we got what we expected from some. Rob Holding was Rob Holding and on the ball you see just how bad he is in comparison to Saliba. Reiss Nelson picks up the ball, looks like he’s going to do something exciting with the way he shuffles his feet so quickly and with intensity, but ultimately it doesn’t go anywhere, then Fabio Vieira had a kind of ‘meh’ game that shows the difference between him as a young player in this Arsenal team, in comparison to Odegaard, who is our master in that midfield. The goal they scored was literally the exact perfect spot to loop over Ramsdale and if that player tries that 100 times in a row again he probably only gets another one or two in that spot, so that’s a little unlucky, but we didn’t do enough to press home our advantage and Sporting got maximum output from our clumsiness in possession.
And to make us all feel even happier ahead of Palace this weekend, they’ve sacked Vieira to grab themselves some of that new manager bounce ahead of playing us on Sunday. Great stuff. It’s not as if Palace haven’t had a fair few decent results against us at The Emirates too (three draws and a win in their last four matches!), so that’s there to further add a bit of worry ahead of a match that I felt a lot more comfortable about playing at the weekend than I do now.
I feel really down, but I’m trying hard not to remain that way, as we still have a massive prize to play for. So I’ll end on some positives. Firstly, the return of Gabriel Jesus for 45 minutes was good. He looked lively, it is more minutes in the boots and I suspect he’ll get another 30 mins on Sunday to bring himself back up to the cadence of regular football. There was also a rest of sorts for Martin Odegaard and Bukayo Saka, so you’d hope they’ll be fresher for Sunday. If you really want to stretch the positives you can say also that the goal is now clear – we have just one competition to focus everything on whereas City have three and the fixture congestion that comes with that. We will now be playing once a week and that means we have eight days between Leeds and Liverpool, then another seven before West Ham away (who will have played in the Europa Conference League on 13th April – three days before we play them, then five days before playing Southampton at home, then another five days before City play us, with them having played on the Sunday away to Brighton. So maybe we will see some fatigue creep in for them more than us, but if injuries hit us like they did at the tail end of last season, we might not have as much of an advantage as people are making out.
We’ll see. We still have something to fight for, so I hope this Arsenal team comes out angry on Sunday, ready for blood.
Catch you all tomorrow.