Category Archives: Europa League

Cometh the Hour, Cometh the Pepe

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Unai Emery, his tactics, substitutions, and his football in general has come under major criticism following the series of unconvincing displays from the team which was compounded by the shambolic outing in Bramall Lane on Monday night. The Gunners had a golden opportunity to cement third place in the League against a newly-promoted side but the manager put up a side that wasn’t just good enough.

With the Premier League out of way till the weekend at least, there was the business of the Europa League and as you’d expect, Emery made wholesale changes with only Joe Willock retaining his place in the team. Emi Martinez continued his role as the Cup keeper, captain Hector Bellerin led the defense that had Rob Holding, Kieran Tierney and Skhodran Mustafi. Many Arsenal fans are in the strong opinion that at least three of the four defenders that featured yesterday are ready for Premier League football, but I guess the manager is working with the team physicians on when he’d get the go ahead to feature them in the elite competition.

In midfield, Lucas Torreira played alongside Willock in the double fulcrum and I expected a certain Mesut Ozil to play ahead of them but to my surprise, it was Emile Smith-Rowe. Not that I’m not tired about this whole Ozil – Emery debacle but I can’t fathom why the German schemer can’t even get a game in a minor competition like the Europa League. It’s even more bewildering when you consider the fact that Emery publicly stated that he would feature soon as he’s ‘training well’. In attack, our cup predator, Gabriel Martinelli, had to settle for a spot in the left flank, as the returning Alexandre Lacazette needed a game ahead of the Crystal Palace clash. Ainsley Maitland-Niles completed the attacking trio.

The Gunners were shaky from the start but it was surprising to see the visitors score the opening goal of the game after their right winger skinned Tierney and provided a cut back to Marcus Edwards, that had all the time in the world to pick his spot before slotting the ball under Martinez legs to put the away side ahead. Victoria Guimaraes came into the game bottom of the pile, so to see them get ahead the group’s top side was a little cause for concern. The Gunners pushed and probed for an equalizer and got it when Tierney swung in a beauty of a cross that was nodded home by Martinelli. Scoring five goals in your debut season as an 18-year-old clearly shows that you are a reliable deputy in attack and it makes me happy because the Carabao Cup and Europa League will give the lad the platform he needs to flourish, as he waits for a real run up in the Premier League.

Arsenal has always had this habit of capitulating on their own and the visitors grabbed a second after some sloppy play from Maitland-Niles in midfield that left the team exposed to the counter. The initial strike beat Martinez and clipped the post but Duarte was on hand to blast home the rebound, giving the Arsenal goalie no chance. As you’d expect from Emery losing a game to a lower opposition at half time, he made two changes after the break bringing on Dani Ceballos and Matteo Guendouzi for the ineffectual Willock and Maitland-Niles. Their introductions brought the wind on the Gunners sails and they kept barraging the Victoria Guimaraes defense in search of an equalizer.

With 15 minutes left on the clock, Emery took out Lacazette for the club’s record signing, Nicolas Pepe. The jury has been out for the young Ivorian following his 72m quid move from LOSC Lille Metropole and with only one goal to his name (gifted by the lovable Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang), many fans remained hopeful that he would show the quality that made the Gunners spend all that mullah for his services. Five minutes into Pepe’s introduction, the Gunners had an indirect free kick from quite some distance leaving the Ivorian winger with two plausible options – cross it to the danger area or go for goal. He choose the latter and the net was bulging, sending the Emirates into raptures. His celebration was quite muted and he just wanted to go on with his business.

2-2 with minutes to spare, the Gunners needed someone to take the game by the scruff of its neck and our Guendouzi stepped up, making a Jack Wilshere-esque lung bursting run into the heart of the Victoria Guimaraes defense and as expected, he was scythed down by a defender at the edge of the box. Thoughts of the similar run in the Aston Villa game came to my head and we had Aubameyang to finish it off and win the tie for the Gunners but this time, Pepe made his intentions clear that he wanted to take the free kick and boy was that some finish! Swung with his magic wand of a left foot to the top corner winning the game for his side. Like the previous goal, his celebration was muted but his teammates were all over him, providing some encouragement to the lad, as his sheet quality won the game for his side.

What I can take from Pepe’s celebrations is that he was very relieved to see that he was delivering some output as there has been a lot of pressure on the lad as you’d expect for a club record signing. But we can look to the Crystal Palace game with some optimism knowing that we have Aubameyang, Lacazette and Pepe available for selection with the intent of causing real damage but last night was about our 72m man.

Cometh the hour, cometh the Pepe.


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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.


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Arsenal’s Road To Baku


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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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