Arsenal will play host to Atletico Madrid in a two-leg semifinal clash that will either provide Arsene Wenger with one last opportunity to cement his legacy or tragically shut on his Arsenal career.
Over the last few months, the competition, which is least regarded within European football, is now more important than ever to Wenger and Arsenal. As we know, football can provide plot lines that don’t always suit a happy ending and this has all the hallmarks of that unpalatable scenario.
The North London club will need Mesut Ozil if fit and an industrious and solid performance from every player in an Arsenal shirt if they are to avoid being on the back foot away from home. The absent Mkhitaryan is a big loss because the player looked to be approaching his best, especially in this competition.
Although he may be available for the second leg, it will be a considerable gamble to play him after a short layoff. Quite what Wenger is thinking is anyone’s guess and how he approaches this massively important game is purely speculation but Arsenal can not afford to give away goals, especially away goals.
Arsenal need no greater motivation for this match than what is already available. The manager who has been let down so often by his family of players is now placing his trust in them to get to the final and win one last trophy. However, Arsenal appear to only be able to play one way and any tactics that were developed in training are likely to be secondary as they go in search of a convincing win.
If this story ends perfectly for Wenger, after a season full of disappointments, one would have to ask the players where they have been hiding all season. Individual inconsistencies have punished Arsenal as much as their collective frailties. Atletico are certainly a step up in class and will provide an attacking threat that could punish the gunners quite easily.
At this stage it would be prudent to accept a narrow win or hard-fought draw, which then leaves Arsenal the task of sneaking an away win in the oppositions own backyard. The good news for Arsenal is that Atletico’s Neanderthal, Diego Costa, is absent because of injury but the bad news is that Antoine Griezmann is fit and always a danger.
Atletico isn’t exactly a one-man band having said that, they are extremely well organised as one would expect from a side managed by Diego Simeone. They work hard for each other, have good movement and counter attack as well as Arsenal. They are not infallible in defence but one has to say that they are a notch above the Gunners current crop of rotational misfits.
This is a game that will surely be won by the team most creative in midfield and clinical in attack. Any chances that arise will have to be dispatched and at this level, it means the difference between winning and losing. If Welbeck plays, he won’t be able to squander his usual three opportunities but hopefully, Lacazette is the player that the bulk of those opportunities fall to.
The Frenchman is in fine form and even though his two goals against West Ham had a degree of good fortune about them, his positional, link up play and movement were exceptional. Next season, with a new manager in place, Lacazette and Aubameyang will surely be united in a mouthwatering partnership that could provide 50 goals between them. I’m obviously suffering from acute optimism but first, there’s the little matter of winning a semi-final and final before Wenger says au revoir.
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