Mikel Arteta’s team have a lot to do tonight but if Arsenal can keep a clean sheet, progressing through to the final will be made a little easier. The last thing we need is to not be at it from the off. Anything other than 100% commitment and discipline and Villarreal will make us pay I’m sure. Their front players are dangerous which I’m sure the players and manager know already.
Thankfully, Arteta has a few strikers to choose from tonight so there should be none of this ‘false 9’ rubbish unlike in Spain when that tactic failed dismally.
The above is how Arsenal lined up in The first leg. Why Mikel Arteta opted to play this way instead of deploying Martinelli, Nketiah or even Balogun as the striker only he knows but it’s fair to say his decision backfired. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
Tonight though is a very different story as Arteta has Lacazette, Aubameyang and Martinelli followed by Balogun and Nketiah to select from. Fitness permitting.
Captain Aubameyang was the hero two years ago with his hat trick against Valencia which saw us through to the final. He’s been talking to Arsenal Media:
Definitely it was a good performance [against Valencia] and it was a big game as well. Yes I think it was my best performance since I’ve been here at Arsenal. It was really great game, hopefully I can do it tomorrow again! I think I was really motivated in these types of games because a few times I have received some criticism of not being involved in big games, so I wanted to show people that it’s not true.
This is why I am really excited to play this game tomorrow because it is a big game and it’s a big moment for all of us. Hopefully we deliver again. For sure it will be one of [the biggest games of my Arsenal career]. Definitely this season is the most important game and we know that we have to win this game. It is a big opportunity for us to get to the final, we play at home and this is maybe the biggest game of my Arsenal career.
If Aubameyang is up for this one, which he and every player should be, the better it is for the club. Mikel Arteta can prepare them the best he can but the players need to deliver. Aubameyang is our captain so lead the way.
Either side of our central striker should be two from either Martinelli, Pepe, ESR, Saka or Odegaard. No, not Willian Mikel, not Willian.
Our central midfield is likely to be Xhaka and Partey with ESR, Saka or Odegaard in the so called number 10 position.
With Luiz suffering an injury at the weekend I reckon we’ll see Mari, Holding, Soares/Tierney and Chambers/Bellerin in front of Leno.
There’s an argument for Ryan starting, perhaps Gabriel too but I think Arteta will stick with the same defence as the first leg, barring Xhaka at left back IF Tierney is fit. Even if he’s not, Saka or Soares is a better option.
In the first tie, Arsenal were 1-0 down within five minutes, 2-0 down before thirty minutes had passed and I feared we were in for a pasting from Unai Emery’s team. As said yesterday, it was largely thanks to Bernd Leno that we didn’t concede another. Pepe’s penalty gave us hope and late on, Aubameyang was denied an equaliser by the Villarreal keeper.
I’m not sure Mikel Arteta’s career will be decided by tonight’s result or even the final should we happen to make it through and nor should in my opinion. There’s more to a season than one or two fixtures and when it comes to the manager staying or going, many things have to be considered by the board. If the direction were heading in is right in their eyes, then Arteta will be going nowhere despite the Express suggesting Sarri is being lined up to replace him. Ridiculous story even by their standards.
Last season, when it came to the big cup fixtures, Arteta and his players delivered big performances which is why and how we won yet another FA Cup. As far as big cup fixtures go, this one is right up there.
In some ways, it might prove to be a blessing in disguise that were trailing going into this tie because before, when we’ve been ahead, it’s almost as if it was ‘job done’. Well it’s not and the players need to know that. Arteta can’t afford to let this game drift if things aren’t going right and with five substitutes available, he’ll have plenty of options available.
For once, I’m going to guess the team:
Bellerin/Chambers Holding Mari Tierney/Soares
Saka Aubameyang Pepe
I’ll have my fingers, toes and everything else crossable, crossed.
See you in the comments.