About this time last year, in the second match of the Champions League group stages precisely, David Ospina and especially Arsene Wenger were roundly criticized for their respective contributions to an embarrassing and ‘costly’ defeat to less-fancied Olympiakos at Arsenal’s home ground, The Emirates Stadium – the former for his goal-keeping errors and the latter for selecting the former.
Fast-forward 12 months, this time in Paris, against PSG in the first match of the Champions League group stages, Ospina and Wenger would again make the headlines and this time for the right reasons. The goalkeepers performance was so good that, despite PSG having at least four one-on-one goal scoring chances, the match ended 1-1.
After the game, his manager, feeling a sense of pride and justification, declared “I have two world-class goalkeepers.” In fairness to Wenger, he defended Ospina even after the Olympiakos debacle, pointing out that he was an international goalkeeper with a top Colombia team which had a good world-cup tournament in 2014 and Copa America in 2015.
Arsenal has not made it past the 1st knockout stage in each of the past six seasons in the CL. It is a poor record for a team of Arsenal’s calibre.
A look at Arsenal’s round of 16 opponents since 2011 reveals that we have played Bayern Munich and Barcelona twice each (teams who have either won or at least made the semis in that period). To win the CL, without a doubt, you have to beat every team, but to make the quarters or semis, you stand a better chance if you avoid these European Heavyweights in the Round of 16.
Finishing top of your first round group almost always guarantees avoiding a Bayern or Real in the Round of 16, as they usually top their respective groups. It is in the light of this that yesterday’s draw in Paris has to be considered a very good result (thanks to Ospina) provided we don’t take Basel and Ludogorets, the so-called group minnows for granted, and that’s exactly what Arsenal does in the CL.
CAUSE FOR CONCERN
Once again, Arsenal has started the Champions League like a team that either has no interest in it or is unprepared. If we are not underrating patently weaker opponents like Olympiakos, Dinamo Zagreb or even Monaco, we are conceding soft and early goals against strong opponents.
For all the consistency and stability Wenger guarantees in the CL and EPL, he has to take most of the blame for this, because of his huge experience and the fact he’s been the one constant and ever-present in all these years of under-achievement. That we beat Monaco and Olympiakos comprehensively away from home after having suffered shock losses at home puts to question the mental preparedness and nerves of our teams over the last few years.
We need to correct this immediately by not underrating Basel and beating them convincingly in our next CL match back on our home turf – Xhaka and Elneny should relish this one.
Similarly, our defensive performance last night was very troubling. Koscielny and Mustafi were not so great individually and there was an obvious lack of coordination and cohesion. Hopefully, this would improve as they continue to play together in the CL, barring injuries or stupid red cards (Giroud, take note).
SANCHEZ IS NOT A NUMBER 9 (AND OTHER TALKING POINTS)
With Sanchez playing alone as the top striker last night, we could have played for two days without scoring. He functions best when cutting in from the left flank on his right foot. These gives him the option of using other attacking players as a decoy while dribbling past one lone defender at a time, playing one-twos or shooting at goal with his deadly right foot.
While up top, he could not make any runs from deep and there were enough PSG defenders to handle him and Ozil, but the moment Giroud came on it became difficult to track him, Ozil, Cazorla and Iwobi at the same time with Giroud engaging Marquinho and Silva.
Iwobi is our best winger after Sanchez
The young Nigerian might be only 20 years old but he showed again yesterday that he has better footballing understanding than Walcott and better decision-making and composure than The Ox. Give him the ball in the final third against any opponent and he will show composure and maturity to control the ball, make a precise through ball or dribble and shoot if needed. He is comfortable showing a wide range of skills and with such guile that opponents hardly nullify him.
Indeed, he was our most potent attacking force last night.
Ozil is simply irreplaceable
Ozil’s trademark across-the-box-18 pass to pick out Iwobi in the build-up to our goal shows exactly why he starts every game and he’s hardly ever substituted. At any time, irrespective of his form on the day, he is capable of such match-changing moments – pure genius.
Ospina or Cech? Is Iwobi ahead of Theo and The Ox? Should Sanchez ever play 9 again?
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