As Liverpool crushed Arsenal thoroughly and profoundly by a score of 3-0, hardly a soul of what is being called a “little mafia” demonstrated their value against a side that would go on to be outplayed by Real Madrid just days later. And while no one is suggesting Arsenal and Real Madrid should be in the same breath as one another in regards to consistent quality in recent years, it was unpleasant to see Mikel Arteta’s squad get wrecked as they did.
Finishing in a top six position is not really reasonable to suggest any further, and the Europa League is truly the only ticket to European competition for next year. Arteta will keep his job even if he does not bring Arsenal to European glory I suspect, and he can likely thank the two trophies he won earlier in his short time with the club.
Without them, he would be sweating even more profusely than he might be already; had Unai Emery won his Europa League final against Maurizio Sarri and Chelsea, might he have been afforded the luxury that Arteta will likely find for himself should he fail in Europe as well?
I suspect he would’ve personally, yet moving back to Arsenal, there is no other way forward. Arteta must climb this Europa League mountain and bring the Gunners into European glory, as well as a Champions League qualification and all that comes with it.
Slavia Prague and Arsenal: A Struggle That Must Be Won
Over two legs, Arsenal should have little issue demonstrating they are the better side. While Prague are a tough lot, the talent disparity and style of the Gunners should give them a difficult time. The quality of the attacking players when on-song is absolutely terrifying, despite what was seen in the Liverpool debacle.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Nicolas Pepe must play consistently, and with purpose and fluidity alongside and in front of their teammates. It is unacceptable that they are not a flourishing, terrifyingly quick and effective attacking trio at this point in their careers on north London, being the three most expensive signings in the club’s history.
Martin Odegaard has continued, even in the disappointing match at home against Liverpool, to show that he is a worthwhile investment should the boss wish for Emile Smith Rowe to play out wider and in more advanced positions on the pitch, yet Dani Ceballos has simply not shown that he would be.
Neither can Granit Xhaka be considered long-term in my opinion. The team requires greater defensive acumen as well as more natural offensive confidence, creativity and ambition. While Thomas Partey remains a piece a club builds around, he needs teammates that are up to his highly esteemed calibre. These players are here to stay right now anyway, and Arsenal must figure out a way to use them effectively in the next two European matches, and should they succeed in those, in the successive pair.
While it is possible that Dinamo Zagreb upsets the former boss of Arsenal with his new Spanish club, Villarreal, Unai Emery should be able to manage a victory over two legs, and a date with his former employers in the semi-finals. This would be the type of match that, if it were to occur, could really charge either team up going into the final match of the tournament against any one of four high quality clubs.
Manchester United or the surprise team of the tournament, Grenada, will face the winner of the Ajax-Roma clashes; I suspect that it will be between Ajax and United to determine who will play either Villarreal or Arsenal in the finals, but it is simply a suspicion of course.
There are so many steps still left to be made before that final match may be reached. With the way that Arsenal has currently played in England, they do not stand a chance in this European competition going forward, yet we know from experience that the two are not necessarily always tied together as reasonably as one might suspect they should be.
While the talent is there at the Emirates, it seems that the focus and desire ebbs and flows, and with it, wins, draws and losses.
Will Arsenal prove that they can keep progressing, in Europe if not in England? Time will tell. Another question worth asking remains if they even want to: a team that truly wishes to continue to grow off of its ambitions will show it against whoever they play leading up to, and including the final match of the remaining Europa League tournament.