There were worrying signs during Arsenal’s recent game against Southampton. Yes, there were seven changes made for the encounter because of Thursday’s impending Europa league tie but that alone, can’t explain some of the fundamental errors on display from the premier league side.
Southampton caught the Arsenal defence static and flat on a number of occasions. The Gunners allowed the opposition too much space, stood off for too long without challenging and when the Saints got their equaliser through Charlie Austin, there were 7 or 8 red and white shirts in and around the six-yard box, plus a goalkeeper and yet Austin still managed to score.
Wenger needs to address this problem urgently before the trip to Moscow and the encounter with CSKA, who will ask more questions of them than Southampton ever could. Without pressing and harassing the Russian team fairly high up the pitch and marking the danger men, the North London club could make heavy weather of the second leg or simply surrender the advantage.
Intensity and commitment are key in this match and Ozil, Ramsey and Lacazette will provide the main threat if Arsenal are to continue their Europa adventure.
Mustafi will have to brush up on his communication skills, Xhaka will have to show more authority when trying to clear and the entire back line will have to be more aware of their positional play by not giving the opposition too much space to fashion chances or be so close together, that when a cross floats in they are not caught napping.
There’s a lot to do but Arsenal will field a much stronger side than they did at Southampton, yet they will need to pay attention and consider their weaknesses to snuff out any advances on goal. It has all the hallmarks of what could prove be an uncomfortable night away from home. Stronger opponents await and if they don’t start addressing these fundamental flaws it will see them exit the competition.
The pluses are that Ozil seems to be approaching his imperious best and Lacazette’s movement and eye for goal will certainly make it difficult for CSKA. Ramsey should be flying high, having already picked apart a bamboozled Russian defence and his runs from the middle are almost impossible to predict or defend against.
He appears like a ghost in or around the box and can lose defenders at will, he was certainly impressive in the previous tie and one hopes his appetite is similar. It’s the lack of cohesion at the back that is of most concern and has been all season. On occasion, the defenders look like strangers that have been drafted in from the second string, lacking understanding of their own role and their combined responsibilities.
I may be overly cautious but as an Arsenal fan, it’s served me and thousands of others well down the years. Needless to say, an early goal will set the tone for this match and if Arsenal can just get in front, CSKA will have to go for broke to turn the tie.
0-0 at halftime would also be fine for Arsenal and would plunge the opposition into a desperate measures mode, which could open up opportunities for the Gunners.
They will have to remain aware of the threat and as we’ve seen countless times, fixtures can be turned on their head in the space of five or six minutes, so the Arsenal will have to concentrate for the full 90 minutes and beyond.
There really is no point in Wenger adopting a defensive mindset which relies on the gunners ability to counter-attack because the defence is so inept. Clearly the way to win is to set CSKA a series of problems in their own half and the first half hour will probably indicate how this match will pan out.
I expect Welbeck to get the nod over Iwobi, who was as impressive in his last outing as I have ever seen him in an Arsenal shirt but that’s a marginal decision because both played so well in their last outing.
Iwobi may even get the vote over Wilshere but we will have to wait and see. Wenger has all his attacking and creative options, so it’s just a question of what combination of players he thinks can halt the advances of the opposition. I expect Cech will be the first choice in goal, with Ospina still doubtful. Against Southampton, Cech looked almost back to his best but there was little he could do about the two which were conceded.
How Cech must pine for John Terry’s leadership and organisational skills because of the haphazard and often clueless contribution of his teammates. Even if you could roll back the years and have Per Mertesacker in his prime, it would give the Gunners the anchor which it so desperately needs. Thursday requires another good performance and attitude from the North London side. They are almost there but not quite.
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