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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.

Sayonara

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Mesut Ozil on Fire as Arsenal Thrash CSKA Moscow

Image result for ramsey goal cska

With the change in the fortunes of the Gunners winning four games on the trot and keeping three clean sheets, it was important to get a positive result against a CSKA Moscow side that denied Olympique Lyonnais a chance of a dream final in their home stadium. History was made as the CSKA stalwarts, Igor Akinfeev, Vasili Berezutkiy and Alexei Berezutkiy played against the Gunners again, 12 years after clashing with them in the Champions League. Of course, the Berezutkiy twins, 35, are approaching the twilight of their careers but pairing them with Sergiy Ignasevich, 38, meant that the CSKA defense had a combined age of 108 years. I guess Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli have nothing on these guys.

An early goal was important to calm the nerves of the home side and it was duly delivered when Hector Bellerin’s drilled pass was dispatched with some aplomb by Aaron Ramsey. Despite his attacking prowess, Bellerin doesn’t rake up much positive numbers in attack so it was good seeing the young Spaniard get on the back pages for the right reasons this time, in the wake of all that has happened with him in this tumultuous campaign. Arsenal were pegged back with a piece of individual brilliance from Golovin but it must be pointed out that the equalizer from CSKA came on the end of some terrible defending with a shambolic clearance from Skhodran Mustafi and an idiotic foul from Laurent Koscielny. Petr Cech was helpless in goal as Golovin swung his free kick over the wall and into the net.

That goal gave the visitors some form of confidence but Arsenal regained the lead when Mesut Ozil was scythed down in the box but Smonnilkov to give the Gunners their third penalty in two games. For a team that hardly wins spot kicks, I must say I’m very happy about it. Up stepped Alexandre Lacazette to take a higher pressure penalty than the one he dispatched on Sunday but the result was the same – an Arsenal goal and you could see the relief in his celebrations.

Then came the best goal of the night and possibly a contender for the Europa League goal of the tournament. After some intricate passing play, Ozil lofted a sumptuous ball over the CSKA defense for Aaron Ramsey. The Welsh Jesus noticed Akinfeev off his line and had the audacity to dink the ball over the Russian goalie with the sexiest of touches you’d ever see. The goal was better with each passing replay. The Gunners weren’t done with their blitz as Lacazette latched onto another Ozil killer pass and smashed it past Akinfeev to make it four in just 35 minutes. The Emirates went into raptures on such show of amazing attacking display.

The Gunners kinda took their foot off the pedal in the second but they still had a host of chances to kill the contest off. Ozil’s creative juices were on full flow all night as he swung in a pass that left the CSKA defense for dead and found Henrikh Mkhitaryan but his finish was poor to say the least. The Armenian suffered a blow on the knee and when he signaled to the bench that he wants to be changed, I feared the worst. Alex Iwobi came on in his stead and the manager confirmed after the game that he’s out for Sunday’s clash with Southampton. Iwobi found Lacazette on the far post but the Frenchman’s attempted finish was way off the mark and even fell back to Iwobi embarrassingly.

In the end, it was a satisfying victory for the Gunners and they have a healthy advantage to take back to Moscow next week Thursday. Arsene Wenger’s side have one foot on the semis and it would take a capitulation in grand style for the Gunners to miss out on the semis.

The mood is really good at the Emirates and with relegation-threatened Southampton coming to town, we can only lick our lips in anticipation of another victory.

Feels good to return to writing about Arsenal. I hope I can remain consistent this time.

Sayonara

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Europa League Preview as BATE Borisov Come to Town

Olivier Giroud

So the Champions League group stage fixtures are over and this time, we will not be scared about playing Bayern Munich or Barcelona for a change. However, we would have to be mindful of the eight teams that have gotten a second chance in Europe via the Europa League. CSKA Moscow, Celtic, Atletico Madrid, Sporting CP, Spartak Moscow, Napoli, RB Leipzig and Borussia Dortmund failed to qualify from their respective groups and would have a keen eye on the draws for the latter stages of the competition.

Arsenal on the other hand had done enough to finish as group winners, despite the fact that they put up a putrid performance against FC Cologne, and that feel-good factor has somewhat faded since that disappointing defeat to Manchester United last weekend but that’s football for you – the games can’t come soon enough.

Wenger would have half an eye on the Southampton game for the weekend, so ideally, he’d want to rest his big guns, allowing the fringe players and youngsters to get another run out in front of the home crowd. I’d expect to see David Ospina again in goal with Petr Cech getting a breather. The Colombian goalie hasn’t covered himself in glory this season, and he has certainly put up some questionable performances this season, but that’s what being a second fiddle goalie gets you these days. With club captain, Per Mertesacker, fit, he’d want to get a run out while the likes of Rob Holding and Calum Chambers would be looking for more chances to impress. I’d be hoping to see Reiss Nelson in a more advanced position than right wing back, and I’m sure that’s not going to happen, with Ainsley Maitland-Niles getting a run out in the unfamiliar left wing back position.

I guess I’d have to brace my eyes for another shite fest from Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny, but with Theo Walcott still ‘ill’, Alex Iwobi and Danny Welbeck should flank Olivier Giroud. After the run of games we had of recent, the loss to Man Utd was like a reality check but the lads actually worked their skins off but couldn’t get past the impressive David de Gea. I don’t expect BATE’s goalie to have that kind of quality.

This is a dead rubber fixture for us in all sense of the word but it’s always nice to get a win under the belt. Let’s hope for a better performance that what we have been witnessing in recent Europe League matches from the Gunners.

Sayonara.

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