Valencia made it easy for Arsenal on Thursday night. The game went perfectly, even though Arsenal had some predictable problems in defence away from home. They responded well to the goals and showed the desire to score at the other end.
I’m delighted to see Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette playing alongside each other up front. Often this season we’ve seen one of them on the pitch while the other watches from the bench. Now they’re producing goals and assists, and when Arsenal win games they’re usually the ones responsible for making it so.
They played great yesterday and exploited the weaknesses in the Valencia defence. There weren’t many chances but when the opportunities did come along, they were taken.
Struggles away from home
You have to differentiate Arsenal’s form in the Premier League and in Europe. They have a good record away from home in the Europa League for three basic reasons.
The first is that the intensity of the Premier League is not replicated in the Europa League – in England you have to be physically and mentally tuned in at all times. Even if you play against teams like Brighton.
The second reason is that the referees are different and will protect players more in Europe. The third is that Arsenal haven’t had the desire to compete in the league for a while as they’re so far away from Man City and Liverpool, whereas they know they’re in with a chance in the Europa League and are willing to fight.
Unai Emery’s future?
Unai Emery is a good coach and a good manager. He needs to be given time for players to adapt to his style and his methods. He changes his tactics often and rotates his starting team to suit those tactics.
He’s a proven winner in the Europa League, and even if you consider it the little sister of the Champions League, he’s won trophies. So I hope the Arsenal board will back him in the transfer market and allow him to brighten up his dressing room with better players, especially in defence.
There are so many players at Arsenal who need to leave the club this summer. It’s been too long since we’ve seen them compete for the title, and the only way they’ll do it is with an improved squad.
But they must continue with Emery. The fact he reached a European final is big, as is the fact he’s done it with most of the players who are leftovers from the management of Arsene Wenger. The board just need to give him the power; he can’t continue next season with the same group of players.
For example, what is going on with Mesut Ozil? He looks like a dead player on the pitch. He’s lost in translation. It’s time now for Emery to turn the page.
Will Arsenal’s season be a ‘success’ if they win Europa League?
For me the pressure is on Arsenal to earn a Champions League place for next season. If they don’t beat Chelsea in Baku, this year will have been a failure.
It’s fine to have an occasional bad season and end up in the Europa League, but Arsenal have been struggling to fight for the Champions League places for a while – they need to return to the level they were at before.
Chelsea and Eden Hazard
I’m not really convinced by the football Chelsea are playing, but they’re doing well and have qualified for the Champions League again.
The fact they have been banned from signing new players is bad news for them, especially considering we don’t know yet what’s going on with Eden Hazard’s future.
Even if they sell him to Real Madrid for £80-100 million, they can’t replace him, so they need to be very careful about what happens in the next transfer window – they won’t have the freedom to do what they want.
They’ll have to compete with essentially the same team on two fronts next season. Perhaps they’ll have players back from loan, but 2019-20 will be a turning point for the club. The biggest factor in that will be whether or not they can keep Hazard.