Prematch – Round of 16 Europa League
I wouldn’t go as far as saying I was ecstatic when we drew the team that crippled us around this time last year, but it could have been a lot worse. Now I say those words with a cataclysmic amount of caution, knowing all too well what a proud Spartan side can muster at a knock-out stage of a competition.
When important games come around like these, pivotal and pressurised, I always like to remind myself of what we are bringing to the table instead of ruing past results or the opposing team’s form. This time is no different, the cost of losing is unthinkable and will surely affect the way the club operates as far as 2 years from now. Before we get sucked into the dismal nightmare of Kroenke neglected transfer windows and the sacking of Mikel, let’s remind ourselves why we should feel more confident about tomorrow than I bet most of you feel right now.
Aubameyang is edging, goal by goal, step over by step over back to his best scoring 8 in his last 9 appearances in all competitions, and I for one am looking forward to seeing him upside down as he pulls out his infamous repertoire of celebrations (no matter how fearful I am of him landing awkwardly and having to retire early). Do you remember the days, in seasons gone by, where Aubameyang scoring was as predictable as City drawing the weakest team in a cup competition? Well, I am starting to have those same presumptuous prophecies!
Unlike the round of 32, we will have a midfield consisting of two men and no matter which side of the fence you stand on regarding Granit Xhaka, (as there is no fence-sitting with this divisive dude), you have to admit due to Partey’s willingness to receive the ball and moreover his ability to take it under pressure, gives Granit a constant option and thus limits his wayward tendencies. Some would say that is the definition of a partnership, I would say there is too much leaning on a certain partner from the other but either way, and what I’m getting at, is these two men have experience and a form of rigidity that Ceballos and especially Elneny clearly lack.
Finally, if the game plan goes out the window, which of course it can in these types of one-off games played at different ends of the content, Mikel has a dynamic and inform bench to call upon. Predicting Mikel will stick with Saka, Odergaard, Auba and include one more of our attacking threats – we still have plenty of options to call on if we are in a pickle. The real Willian is emerging, which you have to give Arteta credit for after his blatant public compliments, encouragement and trust during what must’ve been the lowest point in Willian’s entire career.
If Olympiakos decide that the low block is the way, then Willi with his Shimmies could be their Achillies! Then you have Laca, (equally could start moving Auba to the left which is my preferred formation) who is in fine form and screaming to get some game time and continue his goal-scoring run which was rudely interrupted to reintroduce Auba after his injury. Martinelli, Pepe and of course Emile all possess exciting and game-changing qualities which can turn ties on their head.
I hope these positives have the desired effect on you when you catch glimpses of what happened last year or what could happen to Arsenal if we lose. At the very least you should be able to sleep tonight.
How would you set the team up?
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons