Back to action tomorrow night where Arsenal’s season now hinges solely on the Europa League. After a tough last-16 round tie against AC Milan where the team delivered in both matches, we now move onto another tough looking tie against CSKA Moscow.
Wenger is now all-in in this competition. He has to be. The club’s abysmal attempt at reaching the top four and beyond may only be overcast by a slightly more positive Europa League winners’ trophy in May but even that won’t be easy. With the likes of Atletico Madrid and RB Leipzig still fighting in other quarter-final matches, the competition is still wide-open.
Wenger deployed a less than full-strength XI on Sunday, and although Stoke are struggling in the league, this gamble only just paid off – with a few fortunate decisions going Arsenal’s way, leading to a flattering 3-0 victory. That being said, the likes of Cech and Koscielny had complete rests, whilst Wilshere (76 mins), Xhaka (14 mins) and Mkhitaryan (14 mins) all played part-games rather than the full ninety minutes. Most importantly though, was the goal scoring return of Alex Lacazette. Playing a little over half an hour and looking extremely impressive, he won and converted a penalty for the third and game-finishing goal; great for his confidence. So really, at home, there’s no excuses. The team is relatively fresh and man-for-man are a much better outfit than CSKA.
What can we expect from Moscow? A direct team, backed by Russian International goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev and with the attack dictated by Russian maverick Alan Dzagoev, they are not one to be taken lightly. Leicester’s Ahmed Musa playing on loan with CSKA adds lightning pace to a front line not renowned for bags of goals but a front line more than capable of scoring. Vitinho is another attacking force that Arsenal need to keep an eye on. Capable of dropping between the lines and coming in off the flanks, Vitinho is a keen dribbler who loves to be involved. Granit Xhaka may have his hands full here.
With an always tough-sounding night away in Moscow to follow next week, Arsenal need a big performance and a big lead heading into the second leg. No team ever has it easy in Moscow, and next Thursday will be no different. With a hostile atmosphere on the cards, Arsenal need to bury the tie tomorrow night and leave CSKA with no hope. Any sniff of a chance and we’ll be made to worry next week, no doubt about that.
I anticipate a win tomorrow and ideally a big one. With Lacazette now back and set to start, our front line is far more potent than the last round when Welbeck played up the middle. Five goals in two games there, let’s hope for more this time. A clean sheet is a must however; we cannot allow their confidence to grow from an away goal, even if we were to win. A clean sheet and a two nil (or better) win and I am confident. Its more than likely that (regardless of tomorrow’s scoreline) Arsenal will score next week in Russia but it’s still extremely vital to put the tie to bed now.
Prediction: 2-0 win, Lacazette and Ozil on the scoresheet.