Arsene Wenger – The End

Arsene’s reign to end in disappointment…

Arsene Wenger’s farewell tour continued with the latest destination being the Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid.  The Europa League semi final second leg offered the perfect opportunity for ‘Le Professeur’ to set up the fairy tale ending his tenure deserves by qualifying for a European final in his home country.  However Los Rojiblanco’s had other plans and in all honesty from a Gunners point of view the damage was done in the first leg when a lapse in concentration gifted the La Liga side an invaluable away goal just 8 minutes from time.

Arsenal made 8 changes from the side that started up at Old Trafford on Sunday but were rocked early on when skipper Laurent Koscielny suffered an Achilles injury putting his World Cup participation into doubt.  The Frenchman was subsequently stretchered off and the Gunners faithful would have been cursing their luck but in fairness to Calum Chambers he deputized brilliantly and was arguably the Premier League sides standout performer on the night.

If truth be told Arsenal seemed fairly comfortable up until the stroke of half time when a lapse in concentration allowed Diego Costa to pull wide undetected, escape the attentions of Hector Bellerin and eventually lift the ball over David Ospina who seemed overly eager to hit the ground.

The Spanish defenders form has been the subject of great debate throughout the season, we’ve seen far too many defensive errors and there is a feeling among the supporters he’s suffering from a lack of confidence based on his reluctance to take on a player and whip a cross in – something he was renowned for in seasons gone by.

In the aftermath, criticism of the teams overall performance has been excessive in my view.  Similarly to the first leg Arsenal controlled possession for large periods, defended well for the most part but lacked the killer instinct in front of goal.  That can be attributed to a lack of quality in key areas of the pitch, this current crop are evidently below the standard required to compete with Europe’s elite and so this was always going to prove a tall order. Perhaps things could have been different had Arsenal taken their chances at the Emirates or had the defense remained focused throughout, hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Atletico certainly aren’t the continent’s most technically gifted of outfit’s but what they are is streetwise, well drilled and passionate about what they’re being asked to do.  Those qualities have allowed them to compete with the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona for quite some time now and the job Diego Simeone’s done there should be admired.  Top quality players finish when it counts, defend when it matters and concentrate hard when things get tough – if these two fixtures have taught us anything it’s that the mental side of the game should never be overlooked, it can be just as decisive.

I guess in the depths of my heart I expected elimination the minute the draw was made but taking into account this is to be Arsene Wenger’s last season I hoped maybe, just maybe the players would find that extra level and repay him for the faith he’s shown in them.  There are numerous players in that squad who owe their entire careers to the boss because at any other top level club they’d have been exposed as the soft bellied fraudsters they are, the likes of Bellerin, Welbeck and even Mesut Ozil have been stealing a living at the top level for a number of seasons now – hiding behind the tall and lonely figure of Arsene Wenger.

In years gone by I’ve called the Europa League a Mickey Mouse trophy, labeled it as second rate and accused UEFA of exaggerating its value in order to generate the mass TV audiences that would subsequently line the organizations pockets further.   Am I as distraught as I was when we crashed out of the Champions League semi finals in 2009 for example? Not at all, this feels totally different.  This is more sadness rather than disappointment and that stems from my desire to see Arsene depart with his head held high, unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be.  The club’s greatest ever manager’s will leave empty handed and that’s hard to swallow but our fall from grace has been a gradual glide as opposed to a sudden crash.  It’s been a wonderful story full of ups and downs, we’ll look back on his tenure with fondness in years to come I’m sure but all great things come to a end.

Words: @HarrySymeou

 

Arsenal 1-1 Atletico Madrid: Not angry, not surprised but bitterly disappointed

It was supposed to be Arsene Wenger’s night. The scene was set, a European semi-final under the lights and our first in 9 years. The supporters came out in their numbers following the announcement the boss would be leaving in the summer and at least temporarily things seemed noticeably more harmonious. The club provided each supporter with a red or silver flag depending on which block you were seated in, an attempt to enhance the atmosphere and it must be said the place looked awesome as the teams made their way out onto the field.

Things started positively and the Gunners couldn’t believe their luck when Sime Vrsaljko was shown a second yellow card just 8 minutes after picking up his first.  Atletico Madrid were down to ten men and Diego Simeone’s reaction to the decision saw him sent to the stands.  German Burgos, his militant assistant was fortunate not to be dismissed himself considering he was found almost ten yards inside the touchline during his protests.

Jan Oblak was in impressive form, the Slovenian goalkeeper pulled off a host of impressive saves and further enhanced his growing reputation as one of Europe’s finest stoppers. Eventually, the deadlock was broken when Alexandre Lacazette hung in the air for what seemed an age before diverting Jack Wilshere’s cross downwards and into the right hand corner.

Arsene Wenger’s side continued to dictate the play but only managed to carve out a handful of clear chances in the second half.  With every passing minute Atletico’s defence took another step deeper and their fullbacks another step inside creating a deep and narrow block that seemed virtually impossible to penetrate.

Down to ten men, away from home and confident of overcoming a one goal deficit in Madrid – Simeone’s men reached for the continental textbook of time wasting.  Every free kick seemed to take an age, throw ins would be taken 5 or 10 yards further forward and the home crowd began to grow frustrated.

With just over 80 minutes played I would have said that was Arsenal’s best performances of the season.  Yes, Atletico were down to ten men from very early on and that would have proved a handicap however I’m not sure Vrsaljko’s dismissal altered their game plan all that much.

Despite looking defensively sound for the most part a Laurent Koscielny error gifted Antoine Griezmann with a glorious opportunity 8 minutes from time.  The Gunners captain in his attempt to hook the ball back over his shoulder and out of the danger area seemed to kick it into his face and the ricochet fell kindly for his compatriot.   David Ospina was able to block the strikers initial effort but couldn’t have done much about the second.  Add to that the fact Shkodran Mustafi slipped having managed to get himself back on the line  and this was a real sickener.

Atletico had their precious away goal, it was a real smash and grab and the La Liga outfit now have the advantage going into the second leg next Thursday.

Wenger

Arsene Wenger has come in for some harsh criticism following this disappointing result but in my view he’s not to blame for what occurred on the 82nd minute.  His team was set up correctly, dominated the game having 20 attempts at goal and over 70% of the possession.  The Gunners simply weren’t clinical enough and ultimately an individual error from one of their most experienced campaigners has cost them dearly.

Atletico made all three of the substitutions available to them whereas Arsenal didn’t make a single change.  However, the Gunners were in full control and in all honesty there wasn’t much in terms of attacking talent to call upon with just Alex Iwobi and Eddie Nketiah on the bench.  Those who have criticized the Arsenal boss for failing to make a substitution are being overly critical and those mutterings have generally come from his biggest critics. Any excuse to have a pop!

Simeone

Dismissed and sent to the stands but the animated Argentine could have been watching from Timbuktu and his players still would have carried out his instructions perfectly – That’s how well this team are drilled.

The introduction of Gabi in the second half allowed Atletico to grab a foothold in the middle of the park having been overrun in that area for long periods of the game.

Such was the defensive solidity shown by the Spanish side its easy to forget they were down to ten men so early on and for the most part Thomas Partey filled in excellently at right back.  A midfielder by trade the Ghanaian found things difficult particularly in the second half when Arsenal began probing with more frequency down the left hand side.

Simeone to his credit, all be it after they had already conceded identified it as a problem area for his side and brought on former Manchester City defender Stefan Savic, a natural defender to sturdy things up.

Final thoughts… 

Despite the disappointment and the advantage Atletico gained having scored that crucial away goal this tie is far from over.  Arsenal are just as threatening in an attacking capacity but it’s clear we aren’t anywhere near as streetwise.  To blame Wenger seems harsh but the frustration on show is a consequence of poor defending for as long as one can remember and therefore totally understandable.

I’m not angry, I’m not surprised just very disappointed.  We are Arsenal, we were never going to do it the easy way. COYG

United go through but Jose is way out of touch!

Manchester United may well be through to the Europa League Final, but this was a game that reminded us once again just how far away they are from former glories.

They seem to me, a team playing to the system of a manager, yet not entirely comfortable with what they have been asked to do. It’s working as far as cup competitions are concerned where the result is all that matters, and a 1-1 draw was enough here to send them through to a European Final once more.

There must though, have been an easier ways of Manchester United managing this game.

The Europa League should be experiencing a resurgence around about now, from the quarter finals onwards the tournament is usually littered with big clubs, to win European silverware is an achievement and a historical occasion for any club, and the added carrot of Champions League qualification has raised the stakes even more.

Mourinho identified this early, and the man who once said he’d be ‘disappointed to win the Europa League’ prioritised last nights game at the expense of a shot at a premier league top 4 finish, bizarrely calling it ‘the most important in the clubs history’.

The fine margins within which United scraped through may justify his decisions, as you wonder if an understrength or more fatigued side would have escaped.

This was Celta Vigo. Not Seville, Villareal, or Atletico Bilbao. This was a team who currently sit in 12th place in La Liga, who despite a bright start to the season had lost their last 5 going into this one.

Having taken the lead on the night, against the run of play of this should have been comfortable, not relying on an extraordinary miss in the 6th minute of injury time that would have meant a humiliating exit.

The one historical plus is United are now one game from winning the only trophy they have never won and completing the set forever.

It’s hard to criticise the team and the man who is in the final, he will likely win the tournament playing this way and in doing so achieve silverware as well as his Champions League objective, but I can’t help but question why it needs be to done in this way.

Inviting a team on to you needlessly and dicing with death seems a risk hardly worth taking. The difference between United being 6th and 3rd in the premier league has been largely dropped points at home to mid table sides, Celta Vigo’s equivalent, and this has ultimately been an identical performance.

Mourinho mentioned history in the build up to the game, any United team in history would have put this to bed comfortably from the moment Fellaini gave them the lead with a first half goal.

No United players in history would have been happy tackling this game in the tactical manner employed yesterday, and I’m not sure the current crop are either. Manchester United as a club are a class above their opponents, the individual players a class above too against a side including Liverpool and Manchester City rejects amongst their ranks.

They approached the game like equals or even underdogs, seemingly overcome by fear. Often this season the forwards have been criticised for not scoring enough goals, but to leave them isolated in favour of a 6 man defence is contributing and even with the trophies surely Manchester United’s long serving fans won’t want much more of this.

United fans will not be satisfied with their self-inflicted fates left at the feet of John Guidetti in European Semi Finals at Old Trafford.

This wasn’t a glory night, not the enjoyable feeling of a European Semi Final win of times past, the elation of the wins against Shalke, Arsenal, Barcelona & Juventus.

This was flat, nervy, and even at the end the celebrations felt like there was an undertone of disappointment at the manner of the way the side had progressed.

Despite semi finals being only about result there was a lot of frustration about the performance which overcome the feeling of relief and that therefore the win was not as important as it might / should be.

Neutrals unimpressed. If this was even one of the biggest game in the clubs history the scenes at the end didn’t live up to expectations. That would demonstrate a disconnect of values between players, fans, and the manager and that is never a good thing at a football club.

Next season they will need to get closer together and Mourinho might well have to give it a bit.

 

De Luca

sofasportsnews.com

Harry’s European Football Review & Game Of The Week.

What a week of European football! It’s no secret that over recent seasons I’ve often ridiculed the Europa League and branded it as a ‘second rate tournament’

If the tie between Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool and Dortmund was anything to go by I may start paying a bit more attention to the competition. Despite some great ties in the champions league this week there’s no doubt the Scouser’s trumped it.

Game of the week…

Liverpool 4-3 Dortmund (5-4 on aggregate):

The night was special even before it began, arguably the longest rendition of Liverpool’s ‘You’ll never walk alone’ gave me the goosebumps. Being a Gooner, a part of me felt guilty that I was enjoying it so much!

The game began and Liverpool were caught cold, the Germans were cutting through them like a knife through butter. After 9 mins I thought it was all over, two great goals from Tuchel’s side and I was tweeting something along the lines of ‘it’s all over’

Liverpool pulled a goal back through Divock Origi but when Marco Rues grabbed Dortmund’s third of the night it should have been curtains. I genuinely believe that had it been any other of the English sides it would have been game over but not Liverpool.

The mother of all come backs completed when Dejan Lovren rose at far post to head home the winner. Pandemonium in the ‘Klopp End’.

Klopp’s reds march into the last four and have a real chance of glory. It won’t be easy with Sevilla, Villareal & Shakhtar also in the pot but after that they must fancy their chances.

The German managers energy, passion and style of football is really starting to rub off on his team & with a few additions during the summer they could become a real force.

It’s rare for me as an Arsenal fan to admit enjoying another premier league teams European triumphs but there’s no denying it this time. A captivating, pulsating game and that’s why I’ve made it my ‘Game of the week’.

Elsewhere around Europe the UEFA Champions league didn’t disappoint either…

Manchester City 1-0 PSG (3-2 on aggregate)

Manuel Pellegrini is determined to end his Man City career with a bang and after an impressive two legs versus PSG he’s certainly given himself a fighting chance of achieving that.

Sergio Aguero missed a first half penalty but Kevin De Bruyne’s second half goal sealed their place in the last four and dare I say they might be starting to believe they can go all the way.

Not taking anything away from City but I have to say I felt PSG were poor on the night and will their champions league exit turn up the heat on Laurent Blanc?

My personal view is that City are the weakest of the four remaining sides and I don’t expect them to be in Milan for the final.

Atletico Madrid 2-0 Barcelona (3-2 on aggregate)

Two very contrasting styles made for another awesome tie between Spain’s top two teams. Once again there was controversy throughout, cards, dives, dubious decisions and surrounding the referee at every opportunity. Nothing less than I expected to be honest!

Should Iniesta have seen red for the handball? Did Barca deserve a penalty late on when Koke handled? The referee judged it to have been outside the penalty area.

Get video tech in I say, but you all know my views on that subject by now!

Overall Atletico defended brilliantly and were able to keep the MSN trio at bay for most of the 180 mins of this one. Simeone’s men deserve their place in the last four as the Argentine coach enhances his reputation further.

Real Madrid 3-0 Wolfsburg (3-2 on aggregate)

I’ve not got too much to say about this one other than ‘RONALDO’ – he’s been accused recently of not turning up when it matters.

A winner in the recent Classico and a hat trick in this one certainly demonstrates otherwise. When are people going to stop doubting him!?

Credit to Wolfsburg for making a go of it, many had Real Madrid down to cruise through and after the first leg many of us then said Real were crashing out.

This result as well as the recent Classico win has given Zinedine Zidane some much needed breathing space.

Any team with the quality of player Real Madrid possess has a chance of going all the way. The prospect of another Madrid derby along the way has got me drooling.

Benfica 2-2 Bayern Munich (2-3 on aggregate)

Benfica earned a respectable result in Munich and went into the second leg with some belief. Rightly so, they boasted the best defence in the competition going into this one and didn’t by any means disgrace themselves.

It was always going to be a mountain to climb against the German champions but the Portuguese side ran them very close.

Bayern remain one of the favourites and rightly so, having drawn Atletico in the semi finals I’m sure they will feel they can go all the way to Milan.

UEFA Champions League Semi Final Draw:

⚫️ Manchester City v Real Madrid
⚫️ Atletico Madrid v Bayern Munich

UEFA Europa League Semi final Draw:
⚫️ Liverpool v Villareal
⚫️ Shakhtar v Sevilla

I fancy a Real Madrid v Bayern final in the Champions league followed by a Liverpool v Sevilla final in the Europa League. More entertaining European football on its way.

Have your say on www.sofasportsnews.com

Spurs vs Dortmund: The perfect draw – Daniel De Luca

Don’t despair or be too gloomy about this afternoon’s Europa League Draw.

It’s the perfect draw for Tottenham and perfect timing for it. It’s the draw I wanted when I woke up this morning. Even with 4 teams left in hat and the other 2 were Fenerbache and Braga, pairing with Dortmund was the jackpot.

Not because I want to see Tottenham play the best teams, that’s nonsense, nonsense spouted by fans of other clubs who know they can’t possibly win the tournament they’re in. Like a league 2 club wanting to draw a Premier League Club in the FA cup. Sadly some bigger clubs adopt this same view, I’m sure some Spurs fans do too.

Prestigious club, quality opponents, bound to be a great atmosphere and I’ll embrace it, but normally I’d be unhappy to draw them because the chances of winning something are enhanced by drawing a team who are shit, and hoping the favourites slip up elsewhere on route.

What makes this different is the title race. Everyone has Spurs’ involvement in the Europa League down as negative. Too many games, Thursday, Sunday, blah blah blah.
Well let’s say that’s true, and let’s say Dortmund are as nailed on to win this tournament as everyone says then why not get it over with? Anyone see the point in playing 4 more games (followed by 4 more league games) before coming across the biggest fish in the pond in the Semi Finals and losing then? No.
If Spurs really have got as little chance of winning the tie as neutrals are suggesting and the distraction of the tournament will be as fatal as neutrals are suggesting then let’s just bloody get it over with and minimise the upheaval caused by the Thursday night laughing stock, hey.

Let’s dare to remember for a minute that Spurs are actually a bloody good football team, and maybe even consider that we might actually try to win this by going with a full strength side. The fixtures following the games aren’t ones that frighten me to death that we might have a slightly jaded team facing them. Whilst it’s only on paper, Villa away and Bournemouth home are Tottenham’s 2 easiest remaining games. If you ask me to pick two games to follow games against a side like Dortmund then I’d have picked these 2. But I don’t have to pick because the draw has done it for me. Happy days all round I’d say.

The quarter final precedes Man United home, Stoke away. I’d rather an easier tie then thanks. If we’re through of course.
Other ties in the draw included Fenerbache vs Braga
Sparta Prague vs Lazio
Shakthar vs Anderlecht
Plenty of options of receiving a draw we’d strongly fancy if we were to outlast Dortmund that wouldn’t necessarily need our full throttle ahead of tough premier league games

What we’ve got here in the last 16 now, is a great tie that we’ve now got every chance of progressing in, that has the least impact possible on our other quests, and a chance to find out early if we’re good enough to win this competition before another month of sweat tears and air miles are pumped into it. Perfection.

So Spurs fans, for footballing reasons
only, trust me, this is the one we wanted.

There’s more to easy opponents than luck of the draw sometimes. Think outside the box.

COYS

The FA Cup exit – Did Poch get his priorities wrong?

To be honest I’m hugely disappointed to be knocked out of the FA Cup on Sunday. I don’t get the notion of fans saying things like “blessing in disguise” and “too many games” Nonsense.

I appreciate there are times when you have to prioritise, but I think Poch got his priorities wrong this week.

I’ll forgive him of course, the man is working wonders, and he’s event the right to do what he sees fit and not be questioned.

However, Here is my gripe. Tottenham are having a great season, anyone previously denying Spurs are in a title race can’t deny it anymore.
Through the group stages of the Europa League, as you would expect, and as of Sunday in the FA Cup 5th round, BUT, if the season ends without a trophy, how much more successful is it than any other season? A bit maybe, then a decreasing amount with every passing year. Chances to win trophies have been few and far between over the years and really I’d like to have seen a better effort on Sunday to progress to the last 8.

I’m not sure why Pochettino chose to prioritise the Europa league this week, and maybe I never will, but in a tournament that has potentially 9 more games, with long away trips you have potential impact on your title challenge, and the squad may not be big enough to do both.
The FA Cup though had just 4 games left, including a favourable home draw to Palace and two games at Wembley which wouldn’t be subject to replays. Spurs have proved this season I think that they have the ability to beat anyone. Surely this was the pot to put the eggs in?
The draw afterwards that would have seen a trip to Reading only compounded my misery. There are some big teams left in the cup but we should have been having a big go at winning it and it would not have been too big a drain on resources.

If we get through the Europa stages the impact could be telling, if we don’t then what was the point of almost throwing the FA Cup? I just didn’t get it.

In reality Tottenham probably won’t win the league 5/2 with bookies which is a 71% chance that it won’t happen. Winning the FA Cup would have been a nice consolation prize.
I just can’t foresee a situation where Spurs win the Europa league, which means the season could fizzle out fruitless which would be a huge shame.
If Spurs do pull off the greatest triumph and pick up the league title I don’t think it will be because we avoided an FA cup quarter final with Reading. If Spurs were to win the Europa League that would be great, but the biggest prize associated with it (champions league qualification) should already be in the bag I hope, which is another reason why I didn’t think it would be worth all the hassle compared to the FA Cup.

The game itself Tottenham played pretty well, and created enough to win it. The stage the season is at now though is exclusively about results, nothing else matters.

A big run in ahead is all that’s left to focus on for me, and the real distraction of the Europa League can plod along in the background. If we get through to the Semis and are out the title race then of course it becomes the priority again but if we are still in a title race then the pressure will really be on the squad to turn in consecutive big performances.
Maybe that is the distraction we really could have done without.