5-Star Youngsters Outclass Nottingham Forest

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As expected for any Carabao Cup fixture, Arsenal gaffer, Unai Emery, made wholesale changes to the team that struggled to grab all three points against Aston Villa. Our current longest serving player, Emi Martinez, deputized in place of Bernd Leno as you’d expect, while the forgotten Skhodran Mustafi featured alongside the returning Rob Holding. Calum Chambers retained his place at right back while there was a debut for Kieran Tierney. Gooners had been longing to see the player that made us turn Nacho Monreal into a forgotten memory and boy, it was worth the wait. Out-of-favor Lucas Torreira played in midfield alongside Joe Willock with captain of the night, Mesut Ozil, spearheading the midfield. The three-pronged attack saw Reiss Nelson and Emile Smith-Rowe flank the young Brazilian, Gabriel Martinelli.

The Gunners hit the ground running early on with some superb play and got the goal their game deserved when Chambers’ first timed cross was guided home by Martinelli who scored his first Arsenal goal in his first start for the club. A confidence booster for a young lad that went on to have a stormer. The Gunners were in total control of the game and kept Nottingham at bay but the first half ended with a slender goal lead, with the visitors run ragged all over the place.

There was a four-goal salvo in the second half for the home side with stand-in captain, Holding, rising the highest to nod a corner home to make it two goals to the good. The crowd showed their excitement when Hector Bellerin took to the pitch to replace the impressive Tierney and the Spaniard wasted no time in threading a neat assist to Joe Willock for the Gunners’ third after a neat pass from Mustafi. Nelson got in on the act after reacting well to Chambers’ cut back to make it four then Martinelli put the icing on a well-baked cake with a curling effort to make it 5-0.

All in all, it was a wonderful game of football to watch and these young lads showed that they are ready to stake claims for first team football and with performances like that, you can only help but wonder when they will be given more chances. Thankfully, competitions like the Carabao Cup and Europa League group stages will be a good platform for these lads to strut their stuff while the more experienced folks will do their thing in the Premier League. On the down side, there was an injury sustained by Smith-Rowe following a clash of heads with a Nottingham defender and he required to be stretched out of the pitch to be replaced by another exciting winger, Bukayo Saka.

Emery would have been very satisfied with the performance of these lads and at least, it shows that we have good depth in the club.

Sayonara

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Granit Xhaka on the Losing Side as C. Ronaldo Blitzes Switzerland

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Source: Getty Images

The end of season paves the way for some international football without disruptions which allows nations to feature their best talent in their respective bids to win the competitions they are registered in. It seems like eons ago, but many were skeptical about the UEFA Nations League tournament but following some brilliant matches as well as some good organization I must say, we are down to the last four of the inaugural tourney as Portugal took on Switzerland in front of a capacity crowd with a chance for another European final.

Just three years ago, they went to France and grabbed home the European Championships, even though the hosts were overwhelming favorites to go home with the trophy. Three years on and Fernando Santos side, led by their inspirational captain, Cristiano Ronaldo, locked horns with a Swiss team led by Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka. The Swiss might not be world beaters but they have held their own well in recent matches, since their Round of 16 exit in the 2018 FIFA World Cup. They left a lot to be desired with their defending when they gave up a shock 3-0 lead against Denmark to draw 3-3, but they were fully aware of the threat Portugal would pose, especially with the likes of Ronaldo in their ranks.

We didn’t wait to long to see the Swiss net bulge as Ronaldo stepped up to dispatch a well taken free kick that left Yann Sommer rooted with no chance in Hell. The usually reliable Manuel Akanji struggled alongside Fabian Schar, as Portugal continued to barrage the Swiss with waves and waves of attack. The Swiss had some good chances of their own with Xherdan Shaqiri clean through on goal but Rui Patricio was on hand to make a point blank save. Haris Seferovic, that plies his trade in Portugal, had a glorious chance as well, but his effort smashed the wrong side of the cross bar and went over.

Our darling VAR wasn’t going to be left out, as it was used to determine a penalty that was awarded to Switzerland when Nelson Semedo was adjudged to have pushed Steven Zubar. Rui Patricio guessed right to dive in the direction of Ricardo Rodriguez’s penalty but he was really disappointed to see the ball creep under him to level the contest for the Swiss. It wasn’t against the run of play as Switzerland had been giving Portugal a run for their money in what I’d regard as a balanced game.

We never want to see any of these professionals suffer any injuries but it wasn’t a pleasurable sight for the experienced Pepe, as injury forced the hand of the gaffer to bring on Jose Fonte. Good job by Ruben Neves holding the fort while Pepe was being treated. For such a technical metronome in midfield, he wasn’t half bad in the few moments he served his nation as a make shift center back.

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Source: Getty Images

For a player that picked up 14 yellow cards across four competitions last season, it was no surprise to see Granit Xhaka in the book again, when he tried to swap jerseys with Bernardo Silva. I guess he couldn’t wait till the end of the game.

With extra time looming, I was wondering whether there was going to be a match winner in regulation time but as the saying goes, ‘cometh the hour, cometh the man‘ and Portugal’s main man, Cristiano Ronaldo, delivered once again, arriving late in the box to fire in a near post piledriver from B. Silva’s cut back. Sommer was nowhere to be found when Ronaldo’s free kick embarrassed him in the first half but conceding that way in his near post was really questionable. Ronaldo certainly wasn’t done with the proceedings as he rolled back the years with some fancy footwork late on before blasting a trademark drive to the bottom corner.

90 minutes played, one chance created, 91% pass accuracy, 29 accurate passes, 49 touches, 10 duels, three attempted dribbles (all successful), five shots and most importantly, three goals scored. If that’s not a Man of the Match performance from Ronaldo, then I certainly don’t know what that is.

Commiserations to Granit Xhaka and his proud nation that reached the semis of the UEFA Nations League, but it was all about Cristiano Ronaldo, that has guided his nation to yet another final.

Sayonara.

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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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