Tag Archives: Europa League

Giroud – A Tainted Legacy

105 goals in 253 appearances.

Not a ratio to be sniffed at, but at the base level, this is what Olivier Giroud brought to the table for Arsenal.

Just looking at numbers renders other, valuable facets somewhat invisible however.

We overlook the way he held the line valiantly, alone, for so many seasons.

We miss out on him holding up the ball not only with his physical edge, but his nous in and around the box.

We also miss out on the fact he tarnished his Arsenal legacy with his actions in a Chelsea shirt.

Giroud came so close to cementing his reputation as a Gooner favourite. While we lamented the fact he was never a 20 goal a season man, the majority of us saw him and his talents as precious – he helped the team with his actions.

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He wasn’t just about goals, but the above ratio is not poor. Upon joining Arsenal, he had just been the talisman for Montpellier winning their first Ligue Un Championnat. He joined in the same window as Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski – we had signed attacking players that would boost our threat.

This was certainly true for the three above, but Giroud never materialised as we thought he would. He scored valuable goals and always earned a respectable number, but he was never a goal machine. Still, his biggest asset was that his touch and awareness led to him being part of some magnificent goals and moments.

In his career in our red and white, his highlights reel will live on. Some truly breathtaking goals were bagged, and his part in Aaron Ramsey’s late winner in the 2014 FA Cup Final cannot be overstated. Giroud loved the club while he was here and never wanted to leave, but squad competition meant if he wanted regular gametime, he would need to find pastures new.

His move to Chelsea was a stark reminder that professional football is still, at the bottom line, just a job to the majority of players. He made the right choice as his modus operandi in choosing a new destination was that he wanted to stay in London for family reasons.

Chelsea needed a frontman, and Giroud embarked on a trip to West London.

This was more than enough for some fans to cut the ties we had with Giroud, but his over-exuberant celebrations after one of our worst days on a football pitch – the 4-1 hammering at the hands of the Blues in the Europa League final – was the straw that broke the camels back in terms of his Arsenal legacy.

Mocking Arsenal

Olivier Giroud, if he had kept his nose clean and performed in the respectful manner that he did in his time with us, would have always had a home with the Arsenal faithful. We would always remember his efforts kindly. He stayed while we struggled. He gave his all for us and left us with some truly treasured memories.

Instead, he is now just remembered as being part of the Arsenal framework that led to our slide out of the Champions League. Even looking back at his famous, Puskas-winning scorpion goal doesn’t do it anymore. Giroud has burned the nerve endings.

Giroud

It isn’t as bad as the likes of Ashley Cole, Robin Van Persie or Adebayor – those players ended up being panto villains. But where there was real affection for the player – now there is just a vacuous space.

Oivier Giroud could have left something truly special, but in his job search and his antics thereafter – he tainted what he had left us.

 

Emery’s Second Season

It eventually came down to the finest of margins.

Our last two matches in the Premier League and the Europa League final.

After more than fifty matches throughout the season, it boiled down to how we would perform in 270 minutes.

If we won all three?

It would mean a return to Champions League football at the first time of asking from Emery – and a big shiny European trophy to boot.

We would be competing in the summer for the European Super Cup, we would have banished our European hoodoo and announced our comeback to the big stage in the best possible way.

Instead, we were treated to an insipid 1-1 draw at home to Brighton, followed by a win over Burnley (too little, too late by this point) and then a calamitous performance in Baku where we were sent back to London with our tail between our legs by Chelsea.

From where we sit now, looking back, hindsight really does bring things into focus.

We could be remembering what constituted to be a wonderful season, culminating in a win over our London rivals on a European stage, lifting the Europa League.

We could be looking forward to a return of that famous Champions League anthem and more importantly, the extra clout and transfer budget that comes with inclusion of the European Cup.

Unai Emery would be looked upon as taking us in the right direction, instead of doubts on whether he is the right man for the job.

Never mind a little common sense – we missed out on all of the above because of our own failings!

It would be fantastic if everybody could take the equivalent of a mental cold shower, and look at things from a different perspective.

Yes, it is our own fault that we are in what is now a compromising position thanks to missing out on the Champions League.

However, have we not closed the gap?

Has Emery not made progress on where were when he took over – with largely the same squad that Arsene Wenger had?

 

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Woah there, gib me a shance!! 

 

We missed out on the top four by a solitary point. We missed out on the top3 by two points. Despite us picking up just one win on the home straight, we still only fell short by the finest of margins.

Jurgen Klopp, the buck-toothed, bespectacled coach heralded by all as a genius, finished in eighth spot in his first season.

Granted, he was then awarded a wad of cash to spend to revitalise his squad, but it shows what margins a new coach can bring. Klopp didn’t manage to do much in his first season, other than probably the most important factor – one that isn’t instantly tangible.

The roots of his tactics, his famous press, the demanding fitness ability that all players had to adhere to? That was instilled in that disappointing first season. The window of transition from where they were, to where they can now adapt their formation and tactics dynamically? That takes time.

Emery too, needs the time to ensure his tactics are bedded in. That press we saw in the games we flickered to life? The wins over Chelsea, spurs, United? That is what we can now expect next season, albeit a lot more frequently.

We dropped off constantly last season, our defence struggled to adapt to new instructions, plus last season began with two tough fixtures, which in turn put pressure on subsequent games.

Emery will be under no illusions regarding who he needs in and shipped out in order to strengthen and carry out his formulas into battle. The list will already be drawn up, and pre-season will see us again begin to hit the cardio emphatically in order to maintain the lung-bursting orders from Emery. The very same orders that will see us improve once again.

Our fanbase needs a dose of realism. Emery, nay, all coaches, need a window of time to instil their own virtues. Even the mightiest of oaks still need years to flower.

Yes, our transfer activity may not be as it should be for a club of our standing, but as we are self-sustaining, we can only spend what we make. We cleared around £40m last season?

Well, that’s how much we’ve got to work with.

Fear not though. Emery’s expertise will start to show next season. His excellent pedigree wasn’t obtained in a cereal packet, he earned it and if given time, he can show us how.

We have to support, rather than call into question everything.

At the end of the season, when the dust settles, let’s see where we are.

 

Promises and Savouring the Journey

The season, Unai Emery’s first and the beginning of a new era of Arsenal, is in full swing.

 

The football is in a transitory stage, and when the dust settles, an Unai Emery modelled team will indeed make us a far tougher outfit than before. We can already see the seeds of Emery’s free-flowing attack in flashes – the non-stop movement and team-built moves that were the foundation of his success with Sevilla.

 

We also have a squad that is better equipped than in previous seasons. Defensive inequities remain, but this isn’t down to the personnel like in years before.

 

The future is bright, but for some, the future isn’t good enough.

 

Success is never quite close enough, glory always on the horizon but never within grasp.

 

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We are filled with promises from politicians that carry as much weight as the flakiest pastry, it is becoming the norm where someone’s word is worth nothing. So is it really surprising that we hold no optimism where the future is concerned?

 

Unai Emery will be painfully aware that he needs a modicum of success if he is to etch his name permanently into the annals of Arsenal. If he fails then he will be just another managerial casualty.

 

The requirements are simple, far simpler than at the majority of clubs. Do what Arsene failed to do in his last two seasons – reach the Champions League.

 

This means ousting two from Man United, Chelsea, tottenham, Liverpool and City. the Champions. Seeing as two of these teams look to be ahead of the chasing pack, that leaves two teams from four, including us.

 

The League is getting tougher and tougher to get at those pesky top four spots, but Emery’s prime objective could be fulfilled another way.

 

As aforementioned, our squad has been bolstered beyond what means we had for our last foray into the Europa League. We reached the Semi-Final then, with a tired team that couldn’t fully motivate in what was Wenger’s last season.

 

We now have a coach who is somewhat of a specialist in this competition. Like it or not too, if we were to lift this trophy, it would be our biggest European triumph. If Emery were to recreate his winning with Sevilla, it would be more than enough to sate the doubters and also the Board.

 

The Top4 may be a big leap, and so is the Europa League, but fighting on both fronts is a must. Emery is equipped to bring glory to the team, but his first season is a building effort. Targets may be in place but we must also realise that if we fall short, there are reasons why.

 

We aren’t where we need to be. We are building, pushing towards an accumulated effort which takes time.

 

We could lift a cup, we might not, but we need to enjoy the journey, as we are on the right path and progress is being made. If it doesn’t happen this season, we can at least rest assured that this is a lesson we need to learn to achieve more.

 

Patience is indeed a virtue, but we need to stop being so short-sighted and only see the struggle. Obstacles make the journey more exciting and for once, we need to have faith in the promises being made.

 

The struggle is real, but so are the words being spoken. We are on our way to silverware again.

What Makes A Good Season For Emery?

The slate has been wiped clean.

 

No preconceptions, no existing variables that can temper an end result.

 

This season will be hard to gauge for this very reason, but what constitutes a good season for Unai Emery’s new regime?

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The Spaniard has spent a moderate amount of money to reinforce a squad that appeared threadbare in Wenger’s final season. Normally, the amount spent correlates to a certain amount of pressure on the coach, but Emery seems to be exempt from this.

 

The reason for this? Probably because of what Emery inherited. He had a team that could only crane their neck upwards at the top places. We had certain top quality players, but we were lopsided. If the squad stayed as it was from last season, then any coach would struggle to contend for a Champions League place.

 

So, is that the barometer now for Emery? Does the Spanish coach need to reach the top4 in order for this season to be gauged a success?

 

Maybe not.

 

Whatever is achieved or not, whether Emery’s first campaign is viewed as successful is entirely subjective.  Some may view a mere improvement on last season as a good season for us.

 

Some may demand a return to European football’s pinnacle in order for our new coach to be able to claim progress.

 

What of a trophy though?

 

If we simply maintained our position of 6th from last term, but we lifted either the FA Cup or, preferably, the Europa League?  Would this constitute success to most of us?

 

Emery has a battle on his hands in terms of duking it out on the league front, with our rivals reinforcing their sides from the ones who finished above us last season. If he brought us Champions League football then it would be a return to where we belong, but it would also be a return to a competition that we have no real chance of winning.

 

The Europa League is a breath of fresh air as we are going into it with genuine hopes of winning the trophy. It would also be the biggest European trophy we will have won. It’s a wonderful feeling, the intoxicating nights midweek when knockout football means all or nothing, but we have a fair chance of actually progressing to the next round.

 

Emery is a well-documented specialist in this competition – the rest schedule, the level required – and he will indeed push his squad to make the most of the chance to give us memories we can’t forget.

 

If Emery was to win a trophy in his first season, it would make his debut campaign instantly memorable. His new tactics are taking time to bed in though, so should we take this into account?

 

Patience is hard to apply when losses are coming thick and fast. but we haven’t merely changed a manager. Our whole style on the pitch is changing. Pressing, moving, fitness, defence, passing – all changing, and this demands time. When the finished article is present and polished, then we can judge, but right  now?

 

That’s like going to view your new car when it’s being constructed – and then passing judgement over it.

 

We are a work in progress, and if we are competing with our rivals, then that could be viewed as satisfactory for this season.

 

What constitutes a success for Emery then this season?

 

Get us back to where we can go into a game against the clubs expected to finish above us, and have a sliver of optimism that doesn’t feel ludicrous to suggest out loud. We want Arsenal back where we belong.

 

A trophy would be nice, but this season neews to show the buds of new beginnings. That should be enough for the majority of us.

Reiss Nelson Has A Decision To Make

As a youngster breaking through into a Premier League first team squad, the odds are stacked.

Reiss Nelson is amongst a few Gunners kids who’ve made the transition from successful Under-23 prodigy to useful squad member for the first team – but now Nelson has a decision to make, with his current contract entering its final throes.

And it’s one that will decide how his career pans out – the skeletal remains of previous blossoming talents serve as the most potent reminders.

Reiss Nelson has seen plenty of action in the Europa League so far, and has made his bow in the Premier League and domestic cup competitions this season. His exciting displays and swashbuckling style have drawn admiration from fans, who mostly believe him to have a glittering future ahead of him.

Will it be in an Arsenal shirt though?

If he continues his current trajectory, then he will become an increasingly relevant player in our side. It’s a big if, but on what we’ve seen, he definitely has a place in first team plans in years to come.

With youth comes impatience however, and there are some glaring pieces of evidence that the grass may well be greener elsewhere – in the form of Marcus McGuane and Chris Willock.

McGuane became the first Englishman to play for Barcelona’s first team in recent years, with his substitute appearance in the Catalan’s Supercopa de Catalunya final. McGuane actually made his first team debut for Arsenal ironically as a sub for Reiss Nelson in our 4-2 win over BATE Borisov, but McGuane was drawn to the potential of a big move, and is doing well for Barca’s B side.

Then there is Chris Willock, brother of our midfielder Jo. The gifted winger opted for Benfica rather than bide his time at Arsenal. His first season in Portugal has been strictly for Benfica’s B side, and options to move back to England on loan were turned down.

Could the lure of early stardom bring about an end to Nelson’s tenure at Arsenal?

So many kids have come and gone through the revolving door at our club, but not many have had the talent that Reiss does. His star is a rising one, but a move to a club that stunts his development with a lack of playing time would shrink hsi potential, setting a well-worn path that many youngsters tread – that of a journeyman swilling around the lower reaches of professional football.

Nelson also needs to have assurances from our club that his first team chances are as healthy as ever, and he will get windows of opportunity. He also needs to play more than he did this season.

So, Nelson is at a crossroads. He can look at Ainslie Maitland-Niles, Alex Iwobi and Jack Wilshere to see what could happen for his career, should he continue to knuckle down and concentrate on his football.

Or he could opt for sunnier climes, but with a far steeper incline for success. The light at the end of the tunnel may well be brighter, but in the dark it’s hard to tell whether the tunnel is longer or not.

Reiss Nelson has a decision to make.

What would you do?

CSKA Moscow Vs Arsenal: Europa League Match Preview

We travel to Moscow for the second leg of our Europa League Quarter-Final to take on CSKA Moscow again, with a valuable 4-1 scoreline giving us clear sight of the Semi-Finals.

CSKA Vs Arsenal 2nd Leg of our Quarter-Final

The first leg score may be advantageous, but it is not conclusive. The away goal scored by Golovin direct from a free kick was deserved if we are honest, as they caused us problems regularly, usually through the vibrant Ahmed Musa. On a different night they could have had two or three, and it is good evidence that they could score an early goal and heap the pressure on.

With a partisan atmosphere to contend with and the pressure of an attacking team bearing down on us, the night could get messy.

Objectively, we could and should have scored six or seven. We created chances at will seemingly, and our opponents had no answer to the creativity of Mesut Ozil for the majority of the game.

The bottom line for this fixture is that if we attack early on, and we score, CSKA will then need four goals to force extra time.

We need to be on the front foot – especially seeing as the combined age of their defence is the actual age of creatures hailing from the Cretaceous era. We can kill this game off early and then rotate for a tough game this Sunday at Newcastle. We have won three away games in the League all season and we need every resource we have in order to better that.

If we score in Moscow, the game is over.
Laurent Koscielny, Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey are set to return to the side, and with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang cup-tied, Alexandre Lacazette is our go-to Europa League striker. Granit Xhaka didn’t travel with the squad as he is sick with flu, so Elneny or Jack could start alongside Ramsey.

Two players who have played their way into contention are Danny Welbeck and Alex Iwobi. their respective displays against a spirited Southampton side last weekend were welcome returns to form for the pair, and they almost single-handedly rescued us from dropping points. With Henrikh Mkhitaryan out for what looks like the remainder of the season, they both are in with a shout of a start.

David Ospina is still out, so Petr Cech will take the gloves instead of our designated cup keeper. Aside from these changes, the lineup pretty much picks itself. One piece of good news for the coming weekend though, is that the red card Mohamed Elneny received in our win over Southampton last week has been rescinded by the FA, and it dissolves the three match ban the Egyptian was due to suffer.

CSKA will have to attack to salvage anything from this tie, but an early goal changes the whole game. We’ll need to be on our game at both ends of the pitch, but we can cut them to ribbons if we need to. Let’s hope we kill their hopes early and save all of us Gooners the coronaries that normally come with a high-stakes tie.

Predicted Lineup – Cech, Bellerin, Koscielny, Mustafi, Monreal, Xhaka, Ramsey, Ozil, Wilshere, Welbeck, Lacazette

Predicted Scoreline – 2-1 to The Arsenal

Arsenal Vs AC Milan – Europa League 2nd Leg Preview

Our 2-0 win last week over AC Milan has given Arsenal a great chance of progressing to the Quarter-Finals of the Europa League, as we welcome the Italians to The Emirates for the return leg.

The two goal advantage may well put us firmly in the driving seat, but Gennaro Gattuso brings his side to London knowing they must score goals, and they have nothing to lose.

This makes this tie dangerous, as we must decide whether we go for the quick kill and score a goal that will leave Milan needing three goals to progress – or do we choose to soak up the pressure and use our intuitive players like Mkhitaryan and Ozil to spark counter-attacks on a Milan defence that will push up.

It’s a decision that will decide the outcome of this two-legged affair, and we will need every bit of what we showed in the first leg to make sure of our passage to the last8.

Milan will no doubt name Suso, Cutrone, Bonaventura and Calhanoglu in their forward line, and it was the Turkish forward who could have made this second leg a far tighter affair had he taken advantage of two gilt-edged chances. The first especially, which was a minute before Mkhitaryan gave us the lead, would have given his side the lead, but Ospina denied him, and came close to conceding a penalty in the process.

It is these minute details that games are decided, and we must be switched on to deny the away side any hope on Thursday evening.

That will require a steady backline, something of a rarity, aside from our last two games. Laurent Koscielny should be fit, and will partner a far steadier Shkodran Mustafi in defence. It is Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal that are the doubts, and Calum Chambers and Sead Kolasinac will be in the side should they fall short of fitness.

Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey look set to continue in central midfield. Ramsey was rested for the weekend win over Watford, but both were superb in controlling Milan’s midfield and roving forward. Mohamed Elneny was effective versus Watford and could be an option should we look to shore things up.

Our attack is limited, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang cup-tied and Alexandre Lacazette still injured, although the Frenchman should be fit after the international break that occurs after this game for two weeks. It means Danny Welbeck will lead the line again, and the striker was great in last week’s win. Eddie Nketiah will be the backup option from the bench.

We can go all out for this game, knowing there will be no crucial Premier League game this weekend. We will need the same outlook and positivity we employed in the first leg – if we can do that, then we should have our name in the hat for the next round.

Predicted Lineup – Ospina, Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Kolasinac, Xhaka, Ramsey, Ozil, Mkhitaryan, Wilshere, Welbeck

Predicted Scoreline – 1-1 #UTA