The usual five talking points ahead of tonight’s game v Valencia.
History Isn’t Good
Arsenal have faced Valencia five times previously. All in competitive matches, even though Valencia have twice competed in the Emirates Cup (they just haven’t faced their hosts either time). Arsenal have won a single one of those matches, a memorable Champions League first leg in the 2001 quarter final. But in each tie, the Spanish team have ultimately triumphed. By penalty shoot-out in the 1980 Cup Winners’ Cup Final, on away goals in that aforementioned 2001 quarter final, and in the 2002-03 season when there was a second group stage in the Champions League – they were milking it for matches in those days. Defeat at the Mestalla in the second game between the two sides eliminated Arsenal. Shall we take refuge in the law of averages? Bookmakers would suggest it is Arsenal’s turn as they are favourites to win the tie, and you can take advantage of a bonus from Unibet if you agree that Arsenal are due to eliminate a side that have painfully thwarted trophy hopes too often for any Gooner’s liking.
The Past Comes Back To Haunt You?
Unai Emery was in charge at Valencia for four seasons from 2008-09 until 2011-12. He finished sixth in his first season, and then third for each of the next three. Pretty respectable, although he didn’t manage to secure any silverware. He certainly gained experience of European competition in both the Champions League and the Europa League. He must have been doing ok, as it’s rare for any manager in Spain to be in a job for four seasons. Still, it’s long gone history now. None of the players that were there under Emery remain at the club. Valencia might not look on Emery too kindly these days. When he won his first Europa League with Sevilla in 2014, his team eliminated Valencia at the semi-final stage. That had to hurt. Going back to 2001, I often wonder what would have happened in the North London derby FA Cup semi-final at Old Trafford if George Graham has not been replaced by Glenn Hoddle as Spurs boss.
Haven’t I Seen You Somewhere Before?
Remember Gabriel Paulista and Francis Coquelin? Both are now plying their trade for tonight’s opposition. Coquelin is suspended for the first leg, so I doubt he has made the trip to London, although Gabriel is set to start. Given the nightmares we have witnessed with Mustafi, it will be illuminating to catch the Brazilian’s form. He was certainly guilty of the occasional error, but not everyone was happy to see him depart. Let’s hope he has a stinker this evening to remind us why the club decided to let him go.
Denis Cheryshev and Geoffery Kondogbia are two key players for Valencia and both are doubtful to play this evening. That would certainly help Arsenal’s cause, although of course they have their own injury woes. Their season hasn’t been a complete disaster on the domestic front. They face Barcelona in the final of the Copa Del Rey (good luck with that) and are sitting in sixth place in La Liga, with a chance of making fourth place as they sit three points behind the team currently in that position, another of Unai Emery’s former employers, Sevilla. There are three more rounds of matches to be played there. Valencia have away trips to two relegation zone teams and a home game against Alaves, two places behind them in the table. And given the financial state of the club (more on their half built but currently abandoned building site of a new stadium next week), Champions League participation would certainly make a big difference. So plenty to play for. It may help the Gunners that their focus is not solely on European progress, which kind of feels where Arsenal are right now after their three defeats on the trot.
So What’s The Plan?
Emery will play the strongest team available in the hope of making the return leg next week less of a hurdle than it might be. I suspect Ozil, Koscielny and Monreal will return to the starting line-up, with Emery playing a back five and obviously Petr Cech will replace Leno in goal. After conceding nine goals in three matches, and with the significance of away goals, it would be nice to see a sound defensive display this evening. Nice… but unlikely. Arsenal’s best chance of going through is probably to simply try and outscore their opponents in both games. Then again, two clean sheets against Napoli? Go figure
Arsenal should win the first leg. Palace at home was a poor day at the office, but generally, Emery’s team do ok on home soil. So a win, but not a clean sheet. The home team need to be looking at a minimum two goal margin of victory. And let’s face it, Valencia owe them. Forget 1980, 2001 and 2003. It’s bigger than that. They robbed the club of £35 million for Shkodran Mustafi. When someone puts together the top ten list of heinous football crimes, that one will be certain to be there. Doubtless the Spanish side will be hoping to see their former centre back in the starting line-up this evening. Emirates regulars may have a different view on that…
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