Arsenal have a big game today against AC Milan but before we get into that, I need to post a clarification on yesterday’s blog.
Rafa Honigstein read my post and called me out on twitter. His complaints were that I was jumping to conclusions about Per and Per likes Wenger. He also mentioned three more points about the Red Bulletin article being down and how everyone already knew that everyone hates Alexis.
Interestingly, I made it clear in the article that I was exactly jumping to conclusions and when I pointed that out he accused me of writing a misleading headline. That is true. It is an intentionally misleading headline. I spent about 5 minutes on that headline: 3 for the “pun” and 2 asking myself if I shouldn’t change the headline to “Rafa Honigstein” instead of “Per Molesaker”. In the end I chose the Per headline for the pun.
The exchange with Honigstein was slightly odd, though. When I asked him if Mertesacker was the one who told him the dressing room story about the miles run and how players hated Alexis he wouldn’t outright deny it. He just said “I’ve told you repeatedly that you’re jumping to wrong conclusions. Can’t be clearer than that.” I disagree. “No, Mertesacker didn’t tell me that story” is clearer than “I’ve told you…”
I do want to apologize for the misleading headline.
Before I start on AC Milan, a huge shout to Arsenal Women and their 1-0 win over Man City to take a record fifth FA WSL Continental Cup. While Tottenham are asking their fans if a woman’s place is in the home, Arsenal are showing their fans that a woman’s place is on the winner’s podium.
Now on to the AC Milan match.
Every article this morning has made mention of the “scare against Ostersunds”. That was the match where Arsenal had a three goal lead from the away leg and lost the return fixture at home 1-2. There were more than a few moments in that match where I felt like Arsenal were about to lose the tie and get kicked out of the Europa League.
Here’s what Arsenal have to do to prevent a repeat of Ostersunds:
1. Start strong. Against Ostersunds Arsenal had 64% of the possession in the first 30 minutes and attempted 13 dribbles but Ostersunds forced errors out of Arsenal by tackling and getting into the faces of the Arsenal players. Mkhitaryan turned the ball over in the 7th minute with a failed dribble on the edge of the 18 yard box, Wilshere failed a dribble in the 1st minute right near the half-way line. And the result was 4 shots by Ostersunds in the Arsenal 18 yard box and two quick goals.
2. Stay organized. Arsenal were dribbling out of trouble so often because they lacked organization. Teammates often struggled to find each other to make an easy pass, when they were pressed, and Arsenal’s defenders played like they had been bewildered and forgot how to cover spaces. Gattuso’s Milan will have watched the tapes and if they are smart they will press Arsenal early. Of course, I said that last time and they didn’t do it, so…
3. No errors. Arsenal are the most error-prone team in Europe and against Ostersunds, in the 21st minute, an error by Kolasinac gifted Ostersunds the ball in huge amounts of space. They scored, though I suspect Ospina will have watched that goal again and felt he could have done better. Some of you will think it’s harsh to pin the error on Kolasinac because it was a mess of a play before that – a looping ball into midfield presented Holding with a chance to control/clear but he hesitated allowing Ghoddos to latch onto the ball and pass to Aiesh in acres of space behind Kolasinac. Instead of covering his man, Kola tamely stuck out a leg (like Maitland-Niles’ “tackle” on the weekend) and Aiesh was free for the shot. Regardless of how you personally score that possession, Arsenal could use an error-free match.
4. Attack! Under Wenger Arsenal have usually played one way and one way only – attack! There have been some stalwart defensive efforts (against Man City a few years ago, etc) but they are few and far between. I think we have to play to our attacking nature.
5. Play our best players. Unlike the Ostersunds match Arsenal are probably going to start Mkhi, Ozil, and Ramsey up front with Welbeck running decoy. Arsenal will also probably start our two best defenders (Mustafi and Koscielny) and hopefully some senior players at fillback (Monreal and Bellerin). Along with Xhaka (I might be tempted to use Elneny) in midfield, Arsenal could field their best possible team, minus Aubameyang/Lacazette. Along with an organized game plan, staying focused from the start and playing to win, the star-studded Arsenal lineup should be enough to make the difference.
6. Stay in the game. If (when) Arsenal make a mistake they need to stay in the game. Honestly, the rest of the Premier League matches are irrelevant for this club and winning the Europa League would be a pretty major trophy – it would be Arsene Wenger’s first ever European cup. There is still a lot of work to do to get to that final but Arsenal have shown themselves to be a good cup team and to rise to the occasion. Today, they need to put the wildness of the season behind them and focus on getting through this tie.