Crunch time has almost arrived and off the back of Arsene Wenger’s big announcement last week, the Gunners will be looking to end the season on a high for ‘the boss’ – that high starts here.
Over the last three or four weeks, the Premier League has been all about building momentum and confidence, pre and post Europa League games, and after a last quarter blitz on Sunday the mighty Arsenal seem to be flying. Lacazette is confident, Ramsey is scoring, and Welbeck is flowing. We are ready!
What can we expect from Arsenal? With an injury to Elneny last time out, added to the (rumoured to be missing) Wilshere, injured Mkhitaryan and cup tied Aubameyang, Wenger may revert back to a back 3 (or 5) to accommodate as many experienced players as possible. A back four with three in midfield would leave Ramsey and Xhaka alongside either Maitland-Niles or a forward-thinking Mesut Ozil (if fit) playing a free central role. It may mean Maitland-Niles or Kolasinac playing LWB if Monreal were to play left sided centre back in a three, or in keeping Monreal at LWB, Chambers or Holding may enter the fray on the right of the central Mustafi and left-central Koscielny.
Although carrying some injuries to big players, Wenger does have options. If Ozil were to make the start, he and Welbeck could be deployed in the false wide areas behind red-hot Alex Lacazette. Fingers crossed for our most important non-cup final in perhaps the last 7+ years, Alex Iwobi starts on the bench. Wenger needs a fast and direct start, and although Iwobi is still developing, he has proved over recent months that he cannot be relied upon for attacking productivity.
Atletico have some big names in their ranks, and many of which are part of their travelling party. The likes the Diego Costa, Antoine Griezmann and Fernando Torres upfront are joined by Spanish international midfielders Saul and Koke. Diego Godin centres the Atletico defence and built upon Diego Simeone’s bullish style, they run a tight ship, conceding very few goals. Regular right back Juanfran has not travelled so will not feature at all.
I expect Diego Costa to see some pitch time, regardless of his fitness. He has travelled so he is surely available for a small stint, at least. Backed by a world class goalkeeper in Jan Oblak, getting a result tomorrow night will not be easy. However, over recent games (Newcastle excluded), the Gunners have showed incredible attacking prowess and productivity, bagging a hatful of goals. The Red Army look in good enough form to score but keeping Madrid out the other end will be tough.
Hopefully Petr Cech makes the XI and sets the tone behind Koscielny for a solid performance. Any Atletico goal this week, and they will be extremely confident for the second leg, regardless of how many Arsenal may or may not score. Alex Lacazette is looking near his best so I expect to see him firing us a goal or two but plenty of hard work from all is required to get the job done…only half the job, mind.
Prediction: 2-1 win, Lacazette and Welbeck grabbing a goal each.