So Arsenal are out of Europe now and there are just four PL games to go before the season comes to a close. It was a tough night for all of us and naturally many feel hurt and disappointed.
I was not convinced by the tactics but we will never know how the game would have finished if Xhaka had not been injured just minutes before kick-off. I am not going to explain again why Granit is so important for us as I have done so ad nauseam over the last few years. But whether he would have been played at LB or LM, Granit would have been the nr.1 translator of Mikel’s tactical plan for the game. During the whole 90+ minutes we were rudderless last night, and I think Mikel made a mistake with not giving Partey an extra man in midfield. Thomas was far too isolated and made a lot of mistakes; he just needed a ‘hoover’ like Elneny to help him out.
Mikel aimed for the 1-0 victory rather than go all out blazing for a big win, and I have time for this. Unfortunately, we did not produce enough chances and/or lacked quality and luck for the few good chances that came our way. I am all for rationally ananlysing games and throwing loads of stats in the mix, but we did not lose to a better team but a luckier one: the bounce of the ball went Villareal’s way on a number of occasions over both legs and that in my view made the difference. It just felt it was not going to go our way, and that is cup football for you. Arteta also made a very good point that his key players were either not available or not fully fit last night, and it cost us.
I would not have started with Bellerin who, to be fair, did not have a bad second half and delivered a peach of a cross that any CF would have loved. I would have played two in midfield, especially after Xhaka got injured. And I would have played Martinelli from the start and leave Pepe out (not that he played that bad last night). But I am just a keyboard manager and know very little of football management compared to Mikel and therefore have only respect for him. He got close to getting us to the final but it was not to be; just as it was not to be for Mourinho, Ten Hag, Rodgers and so many others in the UEFA League. Again that is cup football for you.
There will be calls to get rid of Mikel now.
I even have these calls on Bergkampesque. This is of course fine but I will not support you. The club moved mountains to entice Mikel away from Man City and his great master, Guardiola. Why did they go for a rookie? Well I guess because they believed that Arteta would build something like Wenger did in the late nineties: a legacy based on beautiful, winning football. Arteta has a vision and a plan but it takes time… much more than I thought it would take. The squad is not a bad one at all, but too many players cannot play passing football the modern way. Is that not obvious to any serious Gooner?! Pepe cannot play tight-space-football and neither can Auba; Laca is getting there but Eddie is not making the grade; Martinelli is keen but has dropped tremendously in form and also struggles with playing combo-footie in tight spaces. We have some good full and centre backs but only a few can pass out the ball well and can play a ball over the top when needed; Partey has struggled with the tempo and intensity of the PL this season and Bellerin also struggles with playing the high-intensity football that is required. Luckily, there are still a handful of great footballers at Arsenal and one or two of the above mentioned players may still improve.
So what to do? Kick out Mikel and start again? Hope that a new manager can get the best out of this squad again and make us go places? Or stick with the road and the man we went, on and with, when Emery was sacked? You know how I think about it. Believe in the vision and the man and have patience with the way he is going about things. A big summer TW is coming up and next season we will properly see what Arteta is made of… and I am right behind him.
“No difficulty can discourage, no obstacle dismay, no trouble dishearten the man who has acquired the art of being alive. Difficulties are but dares of fate, obstacles but hurdles to try his skill, troubles but bitter tonics to give him strength; and he rises higher and looms greater after each encounter with adversity.” Ella Wheeler Wilcox