The goal by Atletico’s Antoine Griezmann in the 82nd minute of the 1st leg Europa league clash with Arsenal at the Emirates has put the Spanish club firmly in the driving seat. The 2nd leg promises to be either another night filled with regrets of squandered chances or a magnificent triumph befitting Arsene Wenger’s imminent exit.
However, you feel that if Arsenal had just turned the screws and scored again, that it would have been an entirely different proposition. In fact, it wouldn’t have been remotely flattering had the Gunners won by three or possibly four goals. It had been a good performance but one moment of madness and misfortune led to the game being promptly turned on its head.
Having watched the game over and over again, Arsenal were caught flat by a lofted punt upfield, one in which Koscielny should have perhaps smashed the ball out of play but tried to be clever, and the ball favoured Atletico’s razor-sharp striker. The rebound from his initial strike was also a gift and Mustafi’s slip managed to put a cherry on top.
Griezmann is an extraordinary predator and seems to play to his own time scale in a parallel universe. Many strikers would have either given up the chase because they had no avenue available. Other strikers may even have flapped when their first effort was saved and made a hash of the second attempt by splicing the through the ball in a blind panic but not Griezmann.
If Arsenal are to overcome Atletico’s clear advantage, someone will have to put him in their pocket or ride him like a horse but even then, the Frenchman has the ability to snatch a half chance from nothing in particular and effectively end this tie. Who shackles Griezmann is the main question, for me, neither Mustafi or Koscielny are completely able and Wenger has a huge problem to solve.
On the plus side, Arsenal have enough offensively to win this match but the likes of Ozil and Ramsey will have to be at their very best and may hold the key to the outcome. Ozil because of his general talent, magnificent skill and ability to find a way through a solid defence and Ramsey for his attack-minded play, appearing unannounced in the oppositions box to bury the ball in the net.
It will not be easy, far from it and if Arsenal emerge from this as finalists, it may be regarded by many as their finest performance. The concerns remain that Arsenal don’t appear to travel well and have not won away in 2018, something that is cause for pessimism and anxiety.
Will Wenger take a chance and throw the impressive, young Greek defender, Konstantinos Mavropanos into the proceedings? He acquitted himself well against Manchester United and showed talent and ability beyond his years. Will he bring back Sead Kolašinac to add extra physicality and ambition going forward? The player made a big impression in the early part of his Arsenal career but has since played infrequently for whatever reason.
The Wenger handbook says no but in this situation, the Frenchman will need to be as brave as his players to get through a torrid evenings work and win the game. The worry will always be Griezmann and it may be worse if Costa has recovered in time. The gunners will have to show their intent and if the game is 0-0 at halftime, the second half will be an uncomfortable period, which will see them commit more bodies forward, leaving themselves exposed.
It’s a exciting and frightening game in equal measure and before we write off Arsenal’s chances altogether, let’s remember that football is an unpredictable game. On paper, Atletico will win by at least two clear goals on aggregate, but if Arsenal bring their ‘A’ game and score within the first quarter of an hour, the complexion of the match changes drastically and the needle swings back in the gunners favour.
They will have to show desire and determination, weather the storm and be prepared to face a fairly negative approach from their opponents because of that away goal. They will have to be patient when they are without the ball but they will also have to close down early and break up the play at every opportunity. Quite possibly, the biggest task of all, is to take the few chances they create, which in the previous encounter proved difficult.
I’m going to stick my neck out here, perhaps because I want the fairytale ending to Wenger’s career and plump for an Arsenal win in a desperately tight fixture. Heart over head? Possibly, but there is nothing else left to believe in this season. It’s been one that has split the fans, unseated Wenger and threatens to cause disruption before the next one. Only those that believe can truly succeed.
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