TO BEAT ATLETICO – AFTER OLD TRAFFORD, WENGER MUST BE RUTHLESS AND TRUSTING by Nicholas
Arsenal visited old foes at Old Trafford, Manchester United, on Sunday, and many got the the pictures of the team travelling and got the idea of what Wenger intended to field, and all must have said the same thing – It will be a white wash closer to the 8-2 Arsenal received when they last fielded such a young side. But it turns out, the boys did so well against the men (Manchester United) and almost stopped a bad record from rumbling on. The bad record is that Arsenal have not picked up a point on the road this calendar year. They were two injury-time minutes away from picking a point at least – even stealing the match and getting all three looked possible.
Arsenal obviously play their crunch Europa League Semi-Final Second Leg at the Wanda Metropolitano on Thursday. The game at Old Trafford was of little significance to Arsenal as we are out of the top four ‘trophy’ battle which would see us play in the Champions League next season. Getting past Atletico will afford Arsenal a chance for one more match, the most important this season, against teams billed to be weaker than Atletico they are facing this Thursday. The final will be played on the 16th of May in Lyon, France.
Atletico Madrid must be having half a boot in the final after the teams came all square in the first round match at the Emirates stadium. This season, Atletico Madrid have made a fortress of Wanda Metropolitano, having played 26 games, winning 18 times, drawing 6 times and losing just twice. They have scored 45 times and conceded just 8 times at home. They also have an away goal from the first match.
After playing Manchester United, in one of the most intimidating arenas of football anywhere on the planet and fielding the boys against men in that match-up Arsene Wenger should have picked up a few more reliable men that he should consider playing against Atletico.
The centre back pairing of Konstantinos Mavropanos and Calum Chambers did what Arsenal’s senior player have not been known to do for long periods this season – stand up against a lethal attacking side. The team conceded two goals, but it is instructive that the defenders did not have obvious blunders associated with Konscielny and Mustafi in many matches this season.
Wenger therefore needs to do the simple thing – Ruthlessly replace the regulars with the two arguably more reliable youngsters. He needs to trust that what we saw against United can be replicated with a few tweaks here and there to shut out Griezmann and Diego Costa, or keep their goal scoring as low enough for Arsenal – because the script written this season that seems unchanging is that Arsenal must concede when playing away. Perhaps the younger players can run faster and cancel out the threats.
In the midfield, the other culprit for Arsenal defeats this season was at it again. Granit Xhaka was at fault for the two goals. He allowed Pogba the room leaving him for the dead literally, and his challenge was poorly timed that it gave the United man more push on flight than restricting him, and Pogba played an inspired one-two with Lingard and scored. In the second, he lost him marking on Fellaini who outjumped the Arsenal defense and scored through a deflection on – who else Xhaka himself. Credit to him, Xhaka got the assist for Mkhitaryan to score against his former employers. On the day, Xhaka was the captain and perhaps Wenger’s captains curse was on him. Whatever it was, Ansley-Maitland-Niles played in the central midfield and gave an inspired account of himself. So ruthlessness and trust demands Xhaka out and Maitland-Niles be played against Atletico. For the manager coming in, Xhaka’s assist shows what he can do best – take his place in the bench as Ramsey’s understudy. When Ramsey is having a bad day in office, bring in Xhaka, for now.
Mkhitaryan – injured, was supposed to be out till end of season, miraculously healed, plays an inspired game, dominates the game, scores against his former employers, and almost gets a brace in there, and leave the game – injured again. In Madrid, Mkhitaryan must play and Wenger must just resort to what England did for Rooney for the 2006 World Cup, the hyperbaric oxygen treatment. Whatever one thinks about it, Rooney ended up playing at the World Cup and Arsenal need Mkhitaryan to play in Madrid.
If Wenger has returned back to back four, then my team for Atletico Madrid on Thursday is a 4.3.3. pattern as follows. If this is what we will play, Wenger may just rewrite the history of Arsenal, just by having guts.
————-Ainsley Maitland Niles ———-
We need to score goals but also defend meanly and the team above can deliver on both. Lacazette was really playing as lone forward in the first match up, and in this pattern he has Welbeck and Mkhitaryan for assistance. An on form Ramsey in an advanced role alongside Ozil is mouthwatering. Save for Xhaka’s intervention, this defense almost succeeded in shutting out Manchester United, in hostile Territory. If entrusted with a similar role, they could just keep Atletico quiet. And we may advance on a 1-0 win away, like we did in 2006 when we stopped the other Madrid after and 0-0 draw in the first match at Highbury Stadium.
If it is of any consolation – of the two matches that Atletico lost at home this season, one was against Chelsea…