It’s been a turbulent season for Arsenal and Mikel Arteta with the side falling way below the expected standards and even though there are reasons far beyond the Spaniards control, the teams inability to perform at key times has been incredibly hard to watch and understand.
Against Villarreal in the first leg of the Europa league semi final Arsenal could have and should have been buried but a much improved second half performance and a key away goal means that the tie is still wide open and with all to play for. Arsenal are favourites to win at home on Thursday, and because of their away goal last week, the tie is very much alive and kicking, unlike the other one which will be underway at the Old Trafford at the same time.
Pepe’s penalty gave both Arsenal football club and manager Mikel Arteta an invaluable life line which they must grasp with both hands on Thursday evening. No margin for error or time to lower the intensity, only a good, solid win will quell the growing criticism of the fans.
The club is two games away from clawing back a degree of self respect, but ahead of them is the Europa league king (Emery) who holds a marginal advantage over his former club.
Villarreal could be expected to sit back on their slender lead and rely on a swift counter and I would imagine that they will be looking for Arsenal to commit bodies forward in the hope of pinching a goal.
Arsenal’s defence has been nothing short of shambolic in the early periods of a game and in general the gunners have been spectacularly inconsistent, these two factors will make Arsenal fans nervous and increase the optimism of the Spanish club.
The line up is key. Although Arteta doesn’t have a best eleven, he needs to field a strong side with balance between all three departments and they have to go all out attack from the first whistle to get to the final.
Arteta will need a determined and focused line up but also a bench that can alter the dynamic if things are stagnant in the second 45 however, he’ll have to make changes earlier than usual.
Moreno is still the main threat to Arsenal but let’s not get too preoccupied with just one player or Arteta runs the risk of letting another less well known figure through the back door.
Energy and intent will win this tie and it may even take something spectacular to extract a win but Arsenal have to connect and engage from the get go, they have to show purpose and keep the opposition on their heels.
Arteta has said on occasion that his instructions haven’t been followed for whatever reason, well, there’s no excuse here.
Everyone knows what they have to do and a failure to be motivated for the big stage is probably the biggest sin of all for me.
There are certain arguments that the fans are already having, which is the best centre back pairing against Villarreal? Does Arteta stick with Leno or promote Ryan ?
The training scenario seems to heavily influence the Arsenal managers decisions but a player like Willian will always look half decent on a training pitch with nothing at stake.
For me, he has to employ a new selection process and think about what combination will prize Emery’s fingers from the cup.
If a player isn’t at the head of the queue in training it doesn’t impact on their ability or desire to do battle when it counts.
Ronaldo and Best are just two examples of players who never really broke sweat in a training environment but match day was a very different affair.
I’m not for one minute claiming that training is irrelevant or that Arsenal have players in that class but it’s an interesting alternative to this unsuccessful process at present.
I’m crossing everything that Kieran Tierney is fit for this tie after resuming training and that Lacazette will at least make the bench.
Arteta has to field players in recognised positions and desist with this idea of playing people out of position on a big occasion, therefore I see no room for either Chambers at right back or Xhaka on the left.
Bellerin and Cedric should be the first choice against Villarreal with Xhaka resuming his normal escort role to Thomas Partey, but this tie will hinge on the front line which could even see a lone striker in a 4,2,3,1 line up.
If given the choice I’d probably prefer 4,4,2 for such a big game but it’s the individuals that will be more important and in particular their individual ability and mindset.
Preferred side vs Villarreal
Bellerin, Holding, Gabriel, Cedric,
Partey, Xhaka, Saka, Odegaard,
Martinelli and Aubameyang.
The choice is made purely for the width down the flank from the back through midfield. Odegaard would be the creator looking to release Martinelli and Saka, but if it wasn’t happening by the 50th minute I’d bring on Pepe and Smith Rowe.
Time to take a risk and win this tie convincingly.
Prediction for Arsenal vs Villarreal:
Arsenal win 3-1