So, it all comes down to this. Arsene Wenger’s 250th European game becomes the next most important as he looks to guide Arsenal to the Europa League final.
Following the frustrating first-leg result of last week, to get to that final, the Gunners will need to put in a momentous effort in Madrid tonight.
A lot was made of the side Wenger put out at Old Trafford on the weekend, but with a game this big on the horizon I didn’t see anything wrong with it. The players brought in made a good account of themselves against the 2nd place team in the league and much needed players for tonight were able to get a week’s rest.
And with Wenger saying:
“We know we need to score, so we have a clear approach to play positively.”
Things could go a lot better than expected at the Wanda Metropolitano. Key forward-thinking players like Alexandre Lacazette, Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey come into the game fresh and they will need to be if we intend to play on the front foot.
This is something I’m glad to hear as I feel taking the game to Atletico will reduce their chances of trying to kill the game off. However, I feel that even if we do go on the front foot, we need to be prepared to sit pretty if that approach pays off with a goal.
For example, last week after opening the scoring, rather than being happy with what we had we went searching for a second goal. Something that could end up being costly come 10pm tonight.
So, I commend Wenger for wanting to attack (as usual), but I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing us switch to a back three if we somehow manage to score first.
Used at the back end of last season and early this season, I feel it gives our two main centre backs, Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi, who proved to be liabilities last week, that extra bit of protection they might just need for the latter stages of the game. And with Konstantinos Mavropanos travelling after his impressive Old Trafford debut, I reckon him coming in with confidence could help even if he is inexperienced.
Although that’s something I’d like to see, I’m not so sure that’s something that will happen. Especially as Wenger seems to have planned for this game very proactively, saying:
“Maybe the best way to keep Diego Costa quiet is to play in Atletico’s half.”
Last week, the former Chelsea striker didn’t make it onto the Emirates pitch, however, he did play an hour of football on the weekend.
With that in mind, I doubt he’ll be rested again tonight so Arsenal will have to ensure they play out that game plan and ensure Costa can’t get an opportunity to either score or just simply rile up Koscielny or Mustafi.
As we saw last week, Costa isn’t the only player the Arsenal defence need to be wary of so they’ll need to stay aware and keep a good whereabouts of the more mobile Antoinne Griezmann. Which is another reason I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing a back three.
However, it’s important to note how difficult of a task this will be. Diego Simeone’s side are notoriously known for their almost impenetrable defence and rightly so. They haven’t conceded in their last 11 home games, so Arsenal will need to reach a new level if they want to progress to the final.
Even though this is a huge task, Arsenal under Arsene Wenger have time and again shown they can overcome the odds. One time which could help lift this team is when a very young Arsenal team including Phillipe Senderos and Mathieu Flamini at left back beat the Galacticos of Real Madrid at the Bernabeu in 2006.
So, hopefully we’ll be in store for something just as miraculous tonight and take another step to Arsene Wenger’s dream farewell and his 251st European game.