Race for the Europa League hotting up

The race for the final Europa League place is hotting up, and The Arsenal are in the mix.

With Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United in the FA Cup semi-finals, 7th in the Premier League will be enough to make the Europa League this season.

The only way 7th will not be good enough is if Arsenal win the FA Cup and finish 8th, making this blog redundant.

Either way, through winning the FA Cup or finishing top 7, Arsenal are in with a shout.

With everyone now having played 32 games, Arsenal sit in 8th position – just 1 point behind Sheffield United in 7th.

Prior to last night, Sheffield United had struggled since the resumption of football – 3 league games played, 0 wins, 0 goals scored.

Their 3-1 win over Tottenham saw them leap Arsenal into 7th, leaving Tottenham down in 9th.

Odd that yesterday Sky began their advertising campaign for next season, mentioning Spurs as a title contender when, at the time, they were not even in the top 7. A few hours later they were not even in the top 8.

Some people might point to Spurs improvement in form under Jose Mourinho since the Portuguese manager took over, but they have now won just 1 of their last 6, and lost 5 of their last 12. Not exactly title winning form is it!

Just 3 points separate Sheffield United in 7th with Everton in 11th.

Some might say (great song) that they would not mind seeing Arsenal with no Europa League football next season so that the club can concentrate on the rebuild. But Europa League will be very important for that rebuild.

Whilst the Europa League might not have the riches of the Champions League, Arsenal still earn around £40million from it. Key funds that next year the club can not afford to miss out on.

With games set to be played behind closed doors, or at best in 30% capacity stadiums, clubs across England are going to take huge hits to gate receipts.

If games are played behind closed doors for the entire season, this will cost Arsenal £100million. We could not afford to also lose the Europa League money.

The Europa League has also given Arsene Wenger and Unai Emery a fantastic chance to give youngsters more game time than just the League Cup. Bukayo Saka made his Arsenal debut in the competition.

Arsenal’s next 4 games are against Wolves (A), Leicester (H), Spurs (A) and Liverpool (H). We finish the season with a trip to Aston Villa before a home tie against Watford.

It is a tough run, but all games are winnable.

The 5 teams in the battle for 7th place all play each other at least a couple of times, and also have a couple of fixtures against those sitting in the top 6. 3 wins and a draw might be enough for Arsenal to clinch 7th place.

Have a good weekend

Keenos

Match Report: Arsenal 4 – 0 Norwich

Arsenal (2) 4 Norwich City (0) 0

Premier League

Emirates Stadium, Drayton Park, London N5 1BU

Wednesday, 1st July 2020. Kick-off time: 6.00pm

(3-4-2-1) Emiliano Martínez; Shkodran Mustafi, David Luiz, Sead Kolašinac; Hector Bellerin, Dani Ceballos, Granit Xhaka, Kieran Tierney; Reiss Nelson, Alexandre Lacazette; Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Substitutes: Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Rob Holding, Cédric Soares, Nicolas Pépé, Joe Willock, Eddie Nketiah, Matt Macey, Bukayo Saka

Scorers: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (32 mins, 67 mins), Granit Xhaka (37 mins), Cédric Soares (80 mins)

Yellow Cards: Emiliano Martínez

Arsenal Possession Percentage: 52%

Referee: Peter Bankes

Attendance: A maximum of 300 attendees due to UK government coronavirus restructions

For the first time since the one-nil victory over West Ham United on Saturday 7th March, we find ourselves finally playing a home game in the Premiership, even though none of our wonderful supporters will be present in the stadium to witness this evening’s match, sadly. It goes beyond words to state that every point is precious now, and each man must play their part for the club until the end of this topsy-turvy season. Our visitors tonight may well be currently residing at the bottom of the Premiership table, but that does not mean that should they should not be taken just as seriously as anyone else who plys their trade in the Premier League. Great to see young Reiss Nelson getting a start tonight, as well as Cédric Soares included as part of the substitutes’ bench too; this shows good intent and a real desire to change things around by Mikel Arteta. Nothing more than a victory tonight will do.

Arsenal certainly got the best of the early exchanges, and although Norwich were on the back foot, they certainly didn’t crumble under the relentless pressure from our forwards. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang got the first shot on target after ten minutes, and it became apparent that we had everything under control so early in the game. Hector Bellerin and Kieran Tierney were working the wings very well, moving into the spaces that Norwich had kindly left open for our speedy wing-backs to exploit. After twenty minutes, our defenders sloppily left just enough space for Ben Godfrey to hit the post from circa thirty yards with Emiliano Martínez grasping for air, and after the drinks break, we took control of the match again. David Luiz was unlucky not to score from a thirty-yard free kick on the half hour, and by now it was looking like we would be the first team to score. Tim Krol made a horrific error on the edge of his area; Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang blocked the ball, then simply took the ball around him and with the most simplest of tasks, put Arsenal one-up on the night. A few minutes later, David Luiz placed a long ball over to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the left, who quickly slotted the ball to Kieran Tierney. He took the ball to the byline, and crossed it for Granit Xhaka to finish the job and score our second goal of the night. In injury time, Emiliano Martínez made an acrobatic save to deny the vistors a goal; the subsequent corner led to nothing, and so we went into the break comfortably in the lead, overall.

Rob Holding replaced Shkodran Mustafi for the second half, and although Norwich started to wake up a bit, with one or two excitble chances, Arsenal were hardly bothered, to be fair. We contained the visitors very well, and we found that the best way to deal with them was to play a high pressing game, but in doing that, we left one or two spaces at the back, which Norwich tried desperately to capitalise on. Joe Willock replaced Reiss Nelson after fifty-seven minutes, and in doing so, changed the shape of the team by moving Alexandre Lacazette up with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to make a double-pronged attack on the Norwich defence. The visitors had a tepid penalty call, which was denied by the VAR team at Stockley Park; good to see them get something right for a change. Joe Willock blasted a ball over the bar from just inside the penalty area, then Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang got our third of the night after sixty-seven minutes following another dreadful defensive error from Norwich, and with fifiteen minutes left, Hector Bellerin and Alexandre Lacazette were replaced by Eddie Nketiah and Cédric Soares to get fresh legs out there for the remainder of the match. Cédric Soares, on his debut, blasted Arsenal’s fourth goal of the night from twenty yards, and two-goal Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was substituted for Nicolas Pépé with nine minutes remaining. By now of course, the job was done, and the rest of the match was simply one of containment on our part.

There’s nothing like a good win to put a smile on everyone’s face, and with three wins in a week, life is good. Everyone played their part tonight, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was in unbelievable form, whilst Emiliano Martínez pulled off some fine saves to prevent Norwich getting on the score sheet. Our debutant Cédric Soares scored a dream third goal, whilst David Luiz, it has to be said, was superb at the back. Oh, and we are a point above Spurs in the table too! Saturday’s match against Wolves at Molineux will be a better test for us, but with the confidence that tonight’s win under our collective belts can give us, who knows? Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as this season is going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Our next match: Wolverhampton Wanderers at Molineux Stadium, Waterloo Road, Wolverhampton WV1 4QR on Saturday, 4th July at 5.30pm(Premier League). Victoria Concordia Crescit.

Steve

Too Dearly Loved To Be Forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930-1962 by Steve Ingless (Rangemore Publications, ISBN 978-1-5272-0135-4) is now available on Amazon.

Arsenal need the new Santi Cazorla, not Santi Cazorla

Fair play to Santi Cazorla.

Back in 2016 he injured his right Achilles tendon during a Champions League fixture against Ludogorets Razgrad, in what became a career threatening injury.

After 8 operations and contracting gangrene which saw the infection “eat” part of the tendon, there were fears Cazorla would be unable to walk again, let alone play football.

He required a skin graft, with the skin sourced from Cazorla’s left forearm where a tattoo of his daughter’s name had featured, as recovery took nearly 2 years.

After 636 days, he finally reappeared on a pitch for a friendly, in the yellow of Villarreal rather than the red of Arsenal.

In 2017, whilst injured, Arsenal had renewed his contract  for a further year in the hope he might play again during the 2017/18 season. He failed to regain fitness and Arsenal made the decision to release him on a free at the end of 2018.

Cazorla returned to former club Villarreal in order to train with them during the rest of the pre-season period and prove his fitness. In August the club which gave him his debut and whom he had been with for 7 season offered him a permanent contract.

In the past two years, Cazorla has regained form and fitness in La Liga and was re-called by the Spanish football team – playing 4 times in 2019.

His fine form has led many Arsenal fan to call for his return at the end of this season, with his Villarreal contract set to expire.

These fans are romanticizing about his return.

The Premier League is a much tougher league, more physical and quicker, than La Liga. Spain has suited Cazorla in the twilight of his career.

A less physical league, where players have more freedom to express themselves without fear from some lump from Burnley or Stoke “letting him know they are there” has allowed Cazorla to flourish.

But he is 35-years-old now, and he does not have the body for Premier League football.

Were Arsenal to sign him, the first game we would play, an opponent would leave one on him to test his body. We would all wince and hope he gets up.

Having spent 2 years out injured, with a fear of not walking again, why would Cazorla himself want to put his body at risk for 1 or 2 more seasons in the Premier League?

The deal would not make sense for Cazorla or Arsenal.

Santi was brilliant for Arsenal. We have sorely missed his technical ability in the middle of the park. Arsenal have not replaced the progressive passing midfielder that both Cazorla and Jack Wilshere were.

Whilst Granit Xhaka is a fine line passer, he is not someone who makes a short, sharp pass in the middle of the park, then run forward for the return pass before passing it on once more.

A midfield with Xhaka and someone like Cazorla in it would give us some robustness, and a good range of passing. Arsenal’s midfield at the moment is very weak.

But we need someone like Cazorla, not Cazorla.

The scouts, the statisticians need to put Cazorla’s attributes and output into a computer and see who comes out. Find a player who can take the ball off the defence and pass it through the midfield, progressing upfield with the ball.

What Jorginhio does for Chelsea or Ilkay Gundogan for Manchester City.

Rodrigo Bentancur would be an ideal signing, but I doubt Juventus would let him go.

Ruben Neves at Wolves or Fabian Ruiz at Napoli are two more realistic options.

Or we come back to Thomas Partey who might not have the passing range of Cazorla, but has the capability to transition the ball through the midfield by driving it forward himself. More a Patrick Vieira type rather than a Cesc Fabregas.

There are plenty of options out there who can solve the problem for Arsenal. We do not need to bring in a short term fix such as Santi Cazorla.

As a club we need to be building for the future. Focusing on players under 25, who can be part of the clubs rebuilding for some time. Who have sell on values so that we can sell and reinvest if required.

What we should not be doing is looking at short term fixes, like David Luiz or Santi Cazorla.

Santi, thanks for the memories at Arsenal, but you should not come back.

Keenos