Wednesday, 25 April 2018

With a bang or a whimper? Arsenal predicted 4-2-3-1 v Atletico Madrid

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Sure, we’ve had FA Cup finals and games to secure Champions League football on the final day of the season, but this is the first game of a double-header that means Arsene Wenger leaves the club after more than two decades with the bang he deserves rather than the whimper that has led him to the door.

Facing the toughest team left in the competition, Arsenal were always going to have to beat Atletico Madrid to win the Europa League. Meeting them in the final would have been better as we’d only have to worry about one game. As we’ve seen over recent years in the Champions League, Arsenal don’t do well against quality opposition over two legs.

The players tell us they want to make sure Wenger gets the send-off he deserves, but that guarantees us nothing. They’ve been telling us they are going to produce performances to prove points all season and have often fell flat on their face. If the first 45 against West Ham at the weekend tells us anything, it’s that the players are having as much trouble getting their heads around what’s going on as a large section of the fanbase.

For a squad that has limited mental reserves, this distraction might be the worst thing imaginable when it should, in fact, serve as catalyst for improved performances, not least because many of them are playing for their futures.

But, there is little that can be done now.

The tie is set, the die cast, and the worst Arsenal side in the Arsene Wenger era will now try to do his legacy justice against one of Europe’s elite when they’ve failed against Swansea, Brighton, Stoke, Newcastle, Ostersund, Manchester City (three times), Liverpool, Manchester United, Tottenham, Nottingham Forest, Bournemouth, FC Koln, and Watford already this season.

So who will the manager turn to for the game?

MOSCOW, RUSSIA – APRIL 12: Players pose for photographers before the UEFA Europa League quarter final leg two match between PFC CSKA Moskva and Arsenal at CSKA Arena stadium on April 12, 2018 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images)

In goal, we will see Petr Cech start. David Osina started the league game, hinting that Wenger has dumped him from the Europa League squad in favour of his more senior, and competent keeper.

In front of him the defence picks itself. Nacho Monreal, Laurent Koscielny, Shkodran Mustafi and Hector Bellerin will all start because we don’t have any other options.

Midfield throws up a few questions Jack Wilshere is only returning from another ankle problem, Henrikh Mkhitaryan has not recovered from his knee injury in time to feature, and Mohamed Elneny, who covers for Aaron Ramsey so well when the Welshman bombs forward, is also injured.

Granit Xhaka will start because he always does. A bit-part player when he first arrived, no player has featured more for Arsenal this season than the Swiss midfielder. He will need o be on his best behaviour with Frenchman, Clement Turpin in charge. Ligue 1 refs are known for their low tolerance for fouls and whistle-happy nature. Turpin took charge of Arsenal’s 2-0 win in Milan and the only two cards he issued went to Arsenal players (Kolasinac and Ramsey).

He was also in charge of Roma’s amazing 3-0 win over Barcelona.

Ramsey, fit again himself, will also start.

Mesut Ozil, who always seems to get ‘flu the game before a big game, is well enough to play. Shocking, huh?

Up front, we have little by way of choice. With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang cup-tied, Alexandre Lacazette will lead the line and hopefully continue his hot-streak. Since returning from injury, the Frenchman has six goals in six games.

Danny Welbeck will take up one of the wide roles with Alex Iwobi likely to take on the other. The forward’s form has been poor of late with Nigeria’s coach, Gernot Rohr, said to be concerned ahead of the World Cup.

If ever Iwobi needed a big performance – for his club, manager and country – then Thursday night is his big game.

3Final XI

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