Valencia Preview and Thoughts on Arsenal’s Top Four Ambitions
It’s been like a ghost town here and like Arsenal, blogging consistency has become a problem for me. I really thought it was a North London thing, as those cocking cockerels bottled it in their new stadium against Ajax, but it seems like the shortcomings of the team affects some fans in more ways than one.
Enough about their squabbles, and let’s focus on why we are here – Europa League semis with the only hope of silverware just three games away, if you catch my drift. We were at this same stage in Arsene Wenger’s final season but Atletico Madrid and their annoyingly amazing goalie, Jan Oblak, ensured that we crashed at this hurdle. It was really painful bearing in mind that we didn’t lose in both legs, but that Antoine Griezmann away goal, no thanks to Laurent Koscielny of course, proved to be the nail in our final coffin. We are here again with a seasoned Europa League specialist, Unai Emery, that famously won this competition three times in a row with Sevilla, but if recent form is anything to come by, I wouldn’t raise my hopes so much.
I vividly remember watching us run Manchester United over the park at our own backyard and I thought that we had enough in the tank to secure a top four finish, and even though I was scared about our wretched away form, I still harbored some hope that we could pick up the points required to bring us closer to Champions League football. My dreams don’t look like coming through unless some monumental cock up happens with our west London neighbors, Chelsea. It’s also disheartening to know that the Europa League also offers them a chance at UCL football, just like us, so it’s clearly down to who wants it most.
It hasn’t really boded well for English teams in the Champions League semis with both Tottenham and Liverpool disgraced in their games against Ajax and the mighty Messilona. Arsenal host Valencia tonight with a chance to put themselves in a strong position for the second leg in Mestalla next week.
To team selection, I would expect Petr Cech to play ahead of Bernd Leno, as he’s the usual Europa League goalie, and with Emery getting some success with his 3-4-1-2 setup, I would be surprised to see his best three center backs,
Skhodran Mustafi Laurent Koscielny, Skhodran Mustafi Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Skhodran Mustafi Nacho Monreal as the starting back three, flanked by Sead Kolasinac and Ainsley Maitland-Niles. There will certainly be no Aaron Ramsey for the rest of the season, and he went to Instagram to issue an emotional goodwill message to the fans. Lucas Torreira and Granit Xhaka will play behind Mesut Ozil, who will provide the ammunition for the deadly striking duo, Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Valencia will certainly be no pushovers, but like Arsenal, they are not in good form with back to back losses in La Liga against Atletico Madrid and SD Eibar, dropping to sixth place on the Liga Santander. The Eibar game was quite interesting, as the twelfth placed side ran the show in Mestalla, having more attempted shots and shots on target in the game, earning themselves a good 1-0 win. The Gunners will still need to be careful about the threat Rodrigo and the experienced journeyman, Kevin Gameiro, could pose.
Here’s to a good game of football and more consistency from me (I hope).
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