Arsenal’s clash with CSKA Moscow has come at the right time, with the North London club emerging from its yearly crisis to find a run of form.
It hasn’t been solid or perfect, perhaps even patchy but they have pulled together and pulled through. Thursday’s game is as important as they come, with nothing else to play for and it represents the last chance for silverware and qualification for the Champions League.
No second chances, no room for error, Arsenal have to get a result, even if that result is by a single goal and every player will need to put in a solid performance. Lacazette is back and will surely start in place of Welbeck and Mkhitaryan, Ozil and Wilshere will surely be on duty in the midfield, in an attempt to put the Russian side to the sword.
CSKA are currently third in the Russian Premier League and their goals come from all areas of the pitch, so concentration will be key if Arsenal’s notoriously squeaky back line is to survive.
What a pity, the threat of Aubameyang will not be present but this is an opportunity for Lacazette to shine and after his rapid recovery from injury, the Frenchman will be keen to prove a point. Yet it’s Ozil and Mkhitaryan who may well make the difference and both will need to impose themselves in the first leg of the quarter-final.
For those that like statistics, CSKA have scored 102 goals in 62 matches at an average of 1.65 goals per game. So the Gunners will have to find a way of negating the threat by defending as a unit if they don’t want to go into the second leg in deficit.
Brazilian striker Vitinho has bagged 20 goals and is the most obvious threat but Chalov, Golovin and Dzagoev are equally able to profit from any slack defending or self-inflicted half chances. Arsenal need an early goal to settle the nerves and to make a statement of intent, but they need to expect a vigorous assault from the Russian side over 90 minutes.
If it were my own choice, I’d also play Ramsey and Xhaka instead of Iwobi, Elneny or Welbeck. It’s a game where a result may need to be ground out rather than the full-on, free flow variety that Arsenal enjoy and both Iwobi and Welbeck are expensive luxuries. Ramsey always represents a threat going forward and who knows, Xhaka may feel compelled to launch a rocket from distance which could always provide the gift of a rebound.
It’s an intriguing fixture but one I fancy that Arsenal could sneak a slight advantage. The return leg in Moscow is going to be one of those uncomfortable evenings that has seen many an English team dumped out of a European competition. It’s already been described as a hot potato for various reasons, one of which is the boiling political temperature and the other is Russia’s inhospitable approach to foreign opposition.
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