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Lacazette on Fire as Arsenal Ease Past Valencia

Image result for lacazette goal valencia

In cup competitions like these, domestic league form is thrown out the window and what matters is the performance for 90 minutes on a cold European night. Following the capitulations in the Premier League in recent weeks, Arsenal’s Champions League hopes are on a thin thread following four defeats in their last five League games but with a good aggregate result against Valencia, Unai Emery’s men would be on their way to Baku, Azeibaijan, without Henrikh Mkhitaryan of course, to play the winner between Eintrancht Frankfurt and fellow Premier League rivals, Chelsea.

As expected, Emery went with a strong lineup in what we should consider his favored formation, 3-4-1-2, but it was the visiting side that began brightly with Rodrigo squaring the ball into the Arsenal danger area and it was lofted to Row Z by Ezequiel Garay from just six yards out. The writing was on the wall for the Gunners to step up their game but the fan’s despair turned into anguish when Diakhaby rose ahead of three players, yes, three players to head Rodrigo’s flick home. This wasn’t the best way to start the game but it was just 11 minutes and there was a whole lot of football to be played.

The Gunners found their equalizer when Arsenal’s fantastic attacking duo connected yet again. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang dragged the goalie and defender along before dropping the ball on a platter for his partner, Alexandre Lacazette. The Frenchman guided the ball to an unguarded net and levelled the contest. Lacazette doubled his money when he reacted first to a Granit Xhaka dinked effort to head the ball on the ground. As you’d expect, the bounce confused the goalie and he managed to make a save, but Goal Line Technology came to Arsenal’s rescue and they were ahead. Lacazette actually had two more chances to put the game beyond doubt and I was shocked to see him miss both – the first was a totally missed header from six yards following some good work from Aubameyang and the second was a horrible double miss with just the goalie to beat.

Football can be cruel in situations like this when you don’t take your chances and Kevin Gameiro almost punished the Gunners when he was clean through on goal, but Petr Cech did very well to make a good block. The Gunners ended the game on a high when Sead Kolasinac made one of his marauding runs on the left flank and swung a cross that was sidefooted home by Aubameyang, to give the Gunners some cushion ahead of the crucial second leg at Mestalla.

It’s evident that this 3-4-1-2 formation is Emery’s best, as it clearly brings out the best in Lacazette and Aubameyang, and it should give the manager a good platform for next season to work with. This formation has seen us win some big games this season and it can only work when we have our best players available for selection.

All focus will go to Brighton this weekend, before the business of finishing the contest against Valencia next week Thursday.


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Valencia Preview and Thoughts on Arsenal’s Top Four Ambitions

Image result for ramsey injury

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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Gunners Qualify to the Semis After Initial Scare

Danny Welbeck celebrates scoring for Arsenal

With an important player like Henrikh Mkhitaryan suffering that injury in the first leg against CSKA Moscow, an audition was in place between Danny Welbeck and Alex Iwobi for his slot in the team and it’s fair to say they covered themselves in glory when Southampton came to town. Welbeck bagged himself two goals while Iwobi was Arsenal’s creator-in-chief with two assists.

With Granit Xhaka suffering an injury, Mohamed Elneny was drafted into the squad to play alongside the rested Aaron Ramsey in the middle. There were also returns for captain, Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal, Mesut Ozil and Alexandre Lacazette in attack. With a healthy 4-1 advantage, and the madness that has happened this week in European football, I was hoping that the players wouldn’t brace themselves up for some embarrassment but my initial fears were realized when Chalov latched onto a loose ball to tap in a goal that sent the VEB Arena into raptures. The initial header from Nababkin was parried by Petr Cech but like many times in his Arsenal, Skhodran Mustafi lacked presence of mind as Chalov prowled on the loose ball like a predator and wasn’t going to miss from that distance. Things got even more nervy when Cech parried a long range shot to Nababkin’s path and the forward wasted no time in blasting the ball into the net. This essentially meant that with one more CSKA goal, Arsenal’s European dreams were over.

Then Arsene Wenger made a tactical switch to substitute an ineffectual Jack Wilshere for Calum Chambers, changing the formation from 4-2-3-1 to 3-4-3. This move reaped dividends as Elneny teed up Welbeck and sent him clear on goal. A part of me expected Welbeck to you know, Welbeck it but that’s the unpredictability you get with the lad – he showed good composure and curled it past Igor Akinfeev to bring the Gunners back into the contest. At 2-1, CSKA needed two goals to send the tie into extra time but Elneny was on hand to threaded a sweet pass to Ramsey that sumptuously dinked it over Akinfeev to put the game beyond doubt.

This win has sent Arsenal to the last four of the Europa League with Red Bull Salzburg, Atletico Madrid and Olympique Marseille fighting for Europe’s second tier competition. The last time Arsenal featured in the semifinal of a European event was in 2009, but they were embarrassed by Manchester United. The Gunners would be foolish to underrate any team in the tournament but it’s going to be interesting with the draws coming up.

This tournament has been great thus far and it would be nice to win it, but we have to ensure we maintain focus and prevent any more injuries. I’m also happy with the fact that the Gunners have some momentum going and confidence will continue to increase with each victory. All focus will move to Newcastle this weekend.


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