Category Archives: Europa League

Martinelli on Fire as Arsenal Thump Standard Liege

 

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It was clearly evident that Unai Emery was going to make wholesale changes to the team that put up that shitefest at Old Trafford and with Standard Liege coming to town, the opportunity existed to gain a stronghold of the group. Emi Martinez expectedly deputized in goal while the gaffer handed starts to the recently recovered injury trio, Rob Holding, captain Hector Bellerin and Kieran Tierney in defense. The out-of-favor Skhodran Mustafi completed the back line. In midfield, Lucas Torreira and Dani Ceballos played behind Chris Willock while Reiss Nelson and Ainsley Maitland-Niles flanked the impressive Gabriel Martinelli in attack.

Following that breathtaking performance against Nottingham Forest in the Carabao Cup, I was excited to see what these lads had to offer as most of them in the playing squad are still trying to stake a claim for first team football. The Gunners hit the ground running when some lovely passing play in midfield allowed the ball to get to Tierney on the byline that whipped a cross that was nodded home by Martinelli. For someone so young, you can’t fault his bravery when he’s attempting those headers from killer crosses. If you thought his first goal was good, his second was even better, a sweet curling effort that left the goalie rooted to the spot. That’s four goals in his first two Arsenal starts, which will certainly alleviate Emery’s concerns on a backup striker to provide depth to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang with Alexandre Lacazette currently injured.

Arsenal looked like they were going to score with pretty much every attack and they were three goals to the good in just 21 minutes when the ball ricocheted off a Standard Liege defender and fell kindly to Joe Willock whose first timed effort hit the bottom corner. That was his third goal this season and many Gooners will be proud to see how our Academy product has acquainted himself well with the big guns and has done really well in his fledgling career thus far. Ceballos put some gloss in the score line in the second half following some brilliant work from Martinelli on the touch line to crown an awesome display from the Gunners.

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Sometimes you just gotta sit back and enjoy some brilliant football on display and these performances go a long way in giving the manager some selection headaches ahead of the grueling Premier League campaign. Emi Martinez may be our longest serving player but he has finally come of age after that impressive loan spell at Reading and he knows that he is capable of pushing Bernd Leno to his limits in his bid to make the #1 jersey is. Leno himself has been very impressive since taking over from Petr Cech but he knows he can’t rest on his laurels.

Defense is one part of the team that needs to be sorted out as the Gunners have kept only one clean sheet in their first seven Premier League games, which is really disappointing. Sead Kolasinac has been decent thus far but with the way Kieran Tierney has been playing, I can’t wait for him to switch roles with the Bosnian, as he’d be the star man in the Premier League while the Tank features in these sort of games. Right back has been a position we have struggled following Bellerin’s long term injury, but Calum Chambers has done very well in the few games he has featured thus far. I really can’t wait for Rob Holding to start featuring in the Premier League but it means that Unai Emery will need to make the hard choice to sending either Sokratis Papastathopoulos or the erratic David Luiz to the bench. Left for me, I’d choose the latter.

Joe Willock has been very decent and for some reason, I’m shocked to see that Ceballos has not yet nailed a place in the first team. That man reminds me of Santi Cazorla’s graciousness on the pitch and his technical skills are up there with the very best in the game. I also love his unpredictability factor that makes him a thorn in the flesh of opposition defenders. With Granit Xhaka and Matteo Guendouzi pretty much locked as the double pivot in midfield, there are competition for places with the likes of Mesut Ozil and Torreira in the question.

I’d also want to touch on the performances of the wingers –  Nelson and Maitland-Niles. They played well as you’d expect in a game of this nature, but you can’t help but think that they haven’t still done enough to show that they are ready to nail a first team place, especially Nelson. I was surprised to see the club show some ruthlessness with the departures of Alex Iwobi and Henrikh Mkhitaryan but it clearly meant that their exits was to pave the way for Nelson to strut his stuff but he hasn’t really impressed. His shortcomings saw Emery had a chance to Bukayo Saka, and for the winger to be rested against Standard Liege, it clearly means that he’s in contention to earn another starting berth against Bournemouth in the Premier League.

In the end, it was a great game of football and I intend to revel in it for a while before switching focus to the rigors of the Premier League.

Sayonara.

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Arsenal’s Road To Baku

 

Image result for arsenal europa league final lose

Arsenal faced Chelsea in the all English Europa League Final this year. Chelsea had already qualified for the Champions League whereas Arsenal hadn’t. Emery’s side needed to win the game in order to play Champions League football next season. This was Emery’s fourth Europa League final having already won three with Sevilla.

In Arsenals group were Vorskla, a team from Ukraine that qualified for the Europa League by finishing third in the Ukrainian Premier League. Qarabag also faced them in the group stages having won the Azerbaijan Premier League. The final team in the group was Sporting Lisbon. The Portuguese side came third in their respective league.

Arsenal got off to a fantastic start in the groups winning all of their first three games which included away trips to Qarabag and Sporting Lisbon. Unless they were to go and lose their remaining three games it was highly unlikely they wouldn’t make it out the groups. When Arsenal hosted Lisbon though they drew 0-0 in a tight game. However, Emery’s side did end the groups on a positive note winning their final two matches and finishing top.

It was a very positive group stage for Arsenal as they only conceded two goals throughout. They won five and drew one of their games meaning they also went unbeaten. It was good for their younger players who managed to get game time, with players such as Nketiah and Willock featuring towards the end.

In the round of 32 Arsenal drew BATE Borisov and were away first leg. BATE managed to get a shock 1-0 win in the first leg. Even though Arsenal didn’t manage an away goal they were still favourites to go through. In the second leg, Arsenal won 3-0 and went through to face Rennes in the round of 16.

Again they were away first leg and again lost. Rennes beat them 3-1 and this time it was going to be much more difficult to get through. But thanks to goals from Aubameyang and Maitland-Niles they won 3-0 and 4-3 on aggregate.

Napoli were the opponents in the quarter-finals, a round where many felt Arsenal could get knocked out. A first leg 2-0 home win set Arsenal on their way and in Napoli, a goal from Lacazette ensured the tie was over and Arsenal would win 3-0.

The semi-finals saw Emery face one of his old sides Valencia. Arsenal won the first leg 3-1 and had one foot in the final. In the second leg, it was an Aubameyang masterclass that ensured there was no way back for Valencia. A hat trick from the striker and Arsenal were on their way to Baku after a 7-3 win on aggregate.

Chelsea would be Arsenal opponents in the final. Both sides had already beaten each other in the league this season so it was going to be a tight game. Arsenal were looking to win their first Europa League and Emery’s first, whilst Chelsea had already won one in 2012/13. Arsenal were the better side in the first half but didn’t take their chances. Lacazette had a claim for a penalty and Xhaka hit the bar.

Chelsea came out a different side in the second half and scored in the 48th minute through ex-Arsenal striker Giroud. Pedro doubled the lead on the 59th minute and then Hazard scored a penalty five minutes later. Iwobi gave Arsenal some hope with a brilliant half volley from outside the box. But Hazards second goal, and Chelseas fourth in the match, made sure this was going to be Sarri’s first ever trophy.

It was a disappointing end to what was a brilliant Europa League campaign for the Gunners. They went unbeaten in the groups, turned over two first leg losses and also beat Napoli and Valencia convincingly. But it seemed the final was one step too far and now Emery’s must improve the squad over the summer ready for next season.

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