An abysmal domestic run of form that has all but killed our hope for a top 4 finish in the league has us crestfallen, trudging towards Valencia like a defeated army in retreat. We need to pick ourselves up as the war for Champions League qualification is still very much raging for us. The Europa theatre is alive and the promise of victory seems not far off.
We take a good 3-1 lead to Valencia but with a worry that the team might be carrying a confidence that could quickly collapse. Valencia would want to capitalize on the disappointment of our weekend. They would know that the longer we are able to contain them the stronger we would grow. So expect them to come out to catch us early.
Who knows what Emery’s game plan would be? I hope it won’t be anything complex, anything that would make the boys run out of popcorns. Our opening salvo should be aimed at neutralizing the psychological thrust of their plan. We need to start off with all our guns blazing too and in so doing rehabilitate our self belief. This is going to be a game of character.
Luckily for us, this is a match Emery would be free of any worry for the next fixture. It should be for him a simple case of picking his strongest team and asking them to go give their all. Koscielny should start having rested in our last match. So also Maitland-Niles. We are never a good team sitting deep and for that reason I’d rather we use possession as our main defensive tactic for containing them while waiting patiently for openings. Our best orchestrator of intelligent control is Ozil and he should be on the field from the get-go.
If Emery opts for control of the game albeit with the offensive potential of the team intact, he would have a hard time choosing between Kolasinac and Iwobi for the left wingback position. Defensively there is little to choose between them. Both are poor. Offensively I would give it to Kola, but possession wise to Iwobi. However the fact that Valencia likes defending narrow might tilt the scale in favour of Kola.
With two games to go, Valencia are 3 pts away from Champions league qualification in the La Liga race. Would they have an eye on their weekend domestic match? I don’t think so. Europa-Cup-final beckoning is too tempting an option for them not to give this game a good go with only a 3-1 away deficit to account for at home.
The starting line up would depend on Emery’s game plan. Here is my guess:-
Bench: Cech, Litchsteiner, Mustafi, Guendouzi, Iwobi, Mkhitaryan, Nketiah.
The Brighton result was very disappointing. Their equalizer triggering the spectre of falling out of the top 4 seemingly woke us up. We came out fighting achieving a season rare 20 attempts at goal but victory was denied us as the gods of football refused bluntly to smile at us. It was as if they were angry that we had all that quality and hardly ever brought them into use. If that trauma has shaken us to full wakefulness, I have very little doubt that we are into the Europa Cup final.