So, our season hinges on this match. Our 2nd leg of our Europa League Semi-Final versus Atletico Madrid is the biggest game of our season, and we’ve got an almighty task ahead of us.
The Spanish side have settled into their new home – the Wanda Metropolitana – and their defensive record is up there with the best in the business. They have conceded only four goals at home all season in La Liga – a stat that has been bandied around by everyone attempting to paint a picture of how difficult it will be for us to progress to the final.
A first european final since 2006, and a much needed salve on a campaign that has barely even flattered to deceive. Our Premier League hopes were never really lifted, and with just three games left in the season, we face a fight with Burnley for the ignominy of 6th spot.
Hardly form to strike fear into Atletico and their firebrand manager Diego Simeone – but if it weren’t for a foolish mistake at the back, we would have won the first leg. We played with verve and on the front foot, and the fact we are all so disappointed with a 1-1 draw shows that we really turned up and perhaps deserved a little more.
Still, a defensive lapse has been a symptom of our team thus far, and those brain-farts really need to be reined in if we are to harbour any hopes of reaching the Europa League final in Lyon.
In terms of our team, yet again Arsene Wenger opted to rest his Europa League team for our Premier League efforts, well, the majority of them. The lineup that lost to Manchester United on Sunday will be vastly different to who lines up against Atleti tonight, so Laurent Koscielny, Shkodran Mustafi, Nacho Monreal will come into our defence, and Mesut Ozil, Alexandre Lacazette and Danny Welbeck will most likely be included.
That means the impressive showings of Konstandinos Mavropanos and Ainsley Maitland-Niles will likely be on the bench, although if any of them are to be included, then AMN is the likelier of the two to get the nod. Granit Xhaka needs defensive cover and while Aaron Ramsey offers much, when it comes to offering a guardian behind Xhaka, that is not exactly his strong point.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan is one who should make the cut after playing and scoring in the weekend, and the Armenian’s guile will be sorely needed to pierce a formidable Madrid defence.
Diego Godin is the lynchpin of Simeone’s side, but it won’t be the Uruguayan who poses the threat. Antione Griezmann has already showed his ability to score despite living off breadcrumbs for the majority of a game. Diego Costa is also fit and ready to go, and the double act will score goals if we switch off – which means that’s bad news for us.
Saul Niguez is another who can change the game, so we’ll have our hands full. We need to keep it tight at the back, and also score.
What is required is perhaps our best display in quite some years. Think our 5-1 at the San Siro. Our win at the Bernabeu. Our 2-1 win over Barca.
Trouble is, those results happened some time ago. It’s time to make some more memories.
Predicted Lineup – Ospina, Bellerin, Koscielny, Mustafi, Monreal, Xhaka, Ramsey, Wilshere, Ozil, Mkhitraryan, Lacazette
Predicted Scoreline – 1-0 to The Arsenal