Morning all, a quick Saturday round-up for you.
Let’s start with the Europa League – you may know this as a competition that Arsenal are still in, and Sp*rs are not, having been knocked out on Thursday night by a team whose manager is in jail. Apparently he made his teamtalk via a collect call, protected by heavies like Knuckles Muldoon, Biff Whacker, and Steve (although they don’t sound like very Croatian names the prison population is very diverse there, I’m told), and still managed to tactically outmanoeuvre Jose Mourinho.
Our quarter-final opposition are Slavia Prague, a team we’ve only ever faced once before. We drew 0-0 away from home, before demolishing them 7-0 at the Emirates in the Champions League group stages in 2007. Even Alex Hleb scored. I’ve seen a lot of reaction to this assuming it’s going to be easy, but I’m not sure.
First, have you watched us this season? Nothing is easy. What was that advertising slogan a few years ago – Nothing is impossible? Maybe Adidas? We’re the opposite.
Maybe Arsenal could come out with a new range of clothing with the slogan: Everything is difficult. Maybe too they could make enough of them so that when you successfully order what looks like a very comfortable hoodie, you don’t get an email a couple of days later telling you ‘Ooops, sorry, we accidentally sold too many of them and now you can’t have one’. That’s a separate issue though.
Point is, anyone assuming that we’re just going to coast through this tie hasn’t been paying much attention. Bernd Leno knows what’s up. He said after the Olympiacos game:
We made it hard for ourselves and, like I said, it was not necessary. If we play like today then we won’t reach anything this season.
I bet Bernd Leno got a hoodie.
The other thing is that while there may well be a quality differential between the Premier League and the Czech First League, Slavia Prague are having a hell of a season.
Played 23: Won 19: Drawn 4: Lost 0: Scored 66: Conceded 15.
They have a 14 point lead over Sparta Prague and they knocked out Leicester in the Round of 32, so they are not to be taken lightly. In the Champions League last season they held Barcelona to a scoreless draw at the Camp Nou. Ok, it’s not the Barcelona of old, but you can guarantee if we went there we’d make Lionel Messi look like five Lionel Messis and Ronald Koeman like a prime Pep. We’re going to have to be good, and that has been one of our challenges this season along with scoring, conceding, crossing, passing, tackling, defending, in-game management, substitutions, midfield control, tactics, motivation, concentration, spirit, heart, through balls, finishing, creating, using space, discipline, and Mustafi.
Meanwhile, reports from Germany say that Hertha Berlin, initially quite impressed with Matteo Guendouzi, are now not quite as impressed and come the end of the season are happy for him to to return to Arsenal. There had been some talk of making the deal permanent, but having had to live with him for a while, they’ve decided against it.
The question for me isn’t ‘Should we keep him?’, it’s ‘How much can we get for him?’. He’ll be in the last year of his contract, and I don’t think there’ll be any real chance of him getting a new one, so we have to sell. What Thursday’s showing against Olympiacos demonstrated very clearly was the need to bolster our midfield options during the summer.
Mohamed Elneny is a very nice man, but I think he’s probably popular more for his personality than his ability (those occasional European golazos aside). If people are, understandably, keen for us to upgrade on Granit Xhaka – who is comfortably our second best central midfield player – I don’t really understand why there’s some reluctance not to upgrade on Elneny, and Dani Ceballos.
There’s a lot for Edu and Arteta to sort out this summer, but midfield is key. Along with Guendouzi’s situation, we have to deal with Lucas Torreira after what has been a disappointing loan spell with Atletico Madrid, Joe Willock, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, as well as perhaps thanking someone like Elneny for his service, and moving him on to fund incoming deals. Summer internationals (The Euros, the U21 Euros, and Copa America) add some layers of complication to all of this, so hopefully they have a very clear plan, and some contingency plans too, because there’s a hell of a lot to do.
Also today, reaction from Joe Montemurro to Arsenal Women’s 2-0 win over Man Utd last night. Any win over Man Utd should be enjoyed, and the second goal in particular is a very pleasing thumping header. Check it out here.
Finally for today, this statement from former Gunner Glen Kamara is essential reading after he was subjected to racist abuse by a fellow player:
Enough is enough. pic.twitter.com/uyJLLhIUul
— Glen Kamara (@GlenKamara4) March 19, 2021
Right, that’s your lot for this morning. Stay safe, look after each other. West Ham preview tomorrow.
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