Arsenal face Dark-horses Slavia Prague in the 1st leg of a crucial Europa League Quarter Final.
The Czech side have already overcome Leicester and Rangers to get to this stage, so will be a tough test for the Gunners.
The last time these 2 met was in the CL Group Stages, where Arsenal won 7-0 and drew 0-0 in the other game, but a lot has changed.
Slavia Prague are 37 games unbeaten this season, a new record and look to continue their dominance.
Comparatively, the Gunners sit 10th. With the league all but done, the EL is the only route to the CL which Arsenal can’t afford to miss out on.
I would expect and hope Arsenal can win, so will go for a 2-1 home win.
Big boost for Arsenal as Saka, Smith Rowe return from injury, while Xhaka returns from illness.
Tierney is absent, which is a major loss. Cedric fills in as a makeshift lb and Holding keeps his spot for the injured Luiz.
Captain Aubameyang is dropped after his poor showings, with Willian coming in.
The travelling side have starting keeper Kolar back just in time for the game.
Defender Kudela is out after the horrific racial incident in the Rangers game.
Key men Olayinka & Stanciu start as the key men who the Gunners will have to focus on, along with Sima who’ll play through the centre.
A very slow first 25 minutes where there’s hardly a shot to note.
There is a lot of space to be exploited, as Prague persist with a high line.
The Gunners started to take advantage.
Saka got 1 on 1 with the keeper but was unable to convert, Holding had a good effort saved.
Slavia continued to sit off Arsenal, as Saka got into more promising areas, however no real end- product arose.
A disappointing half of football, as Gabriel & Holding looked Arsenals main creative outlet, threading long balls to Saka.
The press for the Gunners hasn’t been like normal – very confusing and half-hearted where it’s hard to tell what the intent is.
Sevcik came on for the hosts at the break.
5 minutes into the 2nd half Willian hits the post from a free kick, unfortunate after Saka was fouled just outside the box.
The Englishman got in behind again but completely fluffed the cross.
Slavia had a chance of their own, as some good play led to Boril having a deflected shot well stopped.
Just as Slavia had started to control the ball, Lacazette dispossessed and ran in behind with the whole goal to aim at.
The Frenchman hits the bar. Unfortunate but you have to question why he’s going for the toughest shot angle when there’s so much space.
What a chance.
Lacazette & Partey had good chances, but ultimately Arsenal continued to be inefficient.
After Martinelli came on and a triple sub, the Gunners looked a different outfit.
Why did it take so long for the subs to be introduced? Frustration.
Aubameyang, one of the subs who came on instantly linked up with other sub-Pepe & ESR, who narrowly missed but should’ve done better.
With the game nearly finished, the Gunners finally found the breakthrough.
Aubameyang retained the ball well, thread the ball through to Pepe who used his pace against the high line and chipped the keeper brilliantly.
At long last.
Provod put a sense of certainty about the result, as he slammed a powerful effort which Leno was just about equal to. Great strike.
As you think the game is over and 1-0 is the 1st leg score, Slavia Prague change that.
A corner is whipped in brilliantly by Provod, Cedric is asleep back post as Holer heads home with Leno unable to keep it out.
Allowing pressure so late on was never intelligent, but once again it’s a really poor throw away.
The whistle blows. In a game the Gunners could’ve scored 7 or 8, they come out honours even.
The substitutes were far too late but still had a big impact. The tie should be wrapped up but instead it’s in the balance.
The all-important away goal could mean Slavia Prague sit for a 0-0, which is why an early goal in the 2nd leg for the Gunners is imperative, so the Czech side must come at Arsenal.
Man of the match:
Arsenal’s attacking line were rather ineffective in the final third, Xhaka & Bellerin were standout among everyone.
Xhaka controlled the game brilliantly and was one of the few players who really stood out.
He won most duels and won the ball in important areas, one of the few players who can feel satisfied – a clear MOTM.
Bellerin got in behind well and defended well, did his job well generally and was one of the better performers.
Manager ratings/what went wrong?
Arteta didn’t have his best days tactically. Playing Pepe/ Martinelli was far more suited for a game like this, as Slavia played such a high line.
It is easy to say afterwards however, as no attacker had really been on form but going with the best profiles for the game makes the most sense.
Playing someone like Willian wasn’t the best idea, however, to be fair to him he played well.
Substitutes are the main concern – as they once again felt too late in the game albeit they made a good difference.
70-75 minutes was too late and wasted an extra 30 minutes which was unnecessary.
In fairness to Arteta, the substitutes he did make were perfect and had a big impact on the game, as he seek to expose tired legs.
Throughout the first 70 minutes everything felt so half hearted, particularly with press which was unusual for previous Arsenal games.
Xhaka was often trying to press but no one else was, which led to the Gunners being easy enough to play through.
The absence of David Luiz also meant playing out from the back from press wasn’t easy, which led to long balls which were effective for once.
Ultimately, the inefficiency in the final third regardless of any tactics continues to cost the Gunners.
Another problem was Lacazette dropped deep to create but meant that the Gunners had no presence in the box. This worked in the Gunners favour a few times, however, so could be seen either way.
This is where having an extra goal scorer such as Martinelli could’ve benefitted – with his desire and positioning to get into the areas, which is why Arsenal looked a better side when he came on and why such late substitutes was very frustrating to see.
Overall, picking the wrong players for the wrong games and substitutes too late are small cause for concern which Arteta isn’t learning from.
These are still very small issues, as at the end of the day it’s very easy to say ‘in Hindsight this player would’ve been best suited’ after the game has already played out.
Hopefully he can be a bit quicker with his in-game management however, as it’ll make a difference on the pitch.
Leno – 6.5
Cedric – 6
Gabriel – 7
Holding – 6.5
Bellerin – 7.5
Partey – 6
Xhaka – 8 (MOTM)
Willian – 7
Smith Rowe – 6
Saka – 6.5
Lacazette – 6.5
Elneny – N/A
Ceballos – N/A
Martinelli – 6.5
Aubameyang – 6.5
Pepe – 7.5
What next for Arsenal?
Arsenal go to Bramall Lane to face bottom of the table Sheffield United before their crucial 2nd legged tie.
The Blades seem all but out, so it’s important the Gunners capitalise on a despairing season for Sheffield United.
The game is this Sunday on BT Sport at 6.30pm, where there seems little importance to the game other than a confidence booster.
Thanks for reading once again, hope you continue to enjoy these.