Raise your hand if you thought Arsenal would be returning to the Emirates in the Europa League round of 32 against BATE Borisov in need of a two-goal win to advance.** Now raise your hand if you are confident Arsenal will come away with that result.
My apologies, but the painful reminder is required - Arsenal lost 1-0 last week at BATE Borisov.
I suspect there would be very few hands raised in response to the first question. That the second question even need be asked is a revealing commentary on the current state of affairs at Arsenal Football Club.
There was a time when it was virtually unquestionable that Arsenal would blowout BATE Borisov. You know, like last season, when the Gunners won the two group stage fixtures by a combined score of 10-2.
But generating chances and scoring has become a bugaboo for Unai Emery’s Arsenal lately, or maybe not so lately if you look at xG from earlier in the season. It’s been a month since Arsenal won a match by 2 goals. And if we look to the Gunners’ attacking performance last week in Belarus, well, they’re in trouble.
For the record, I believe that Arsenal will overturn the first leg deficit. I believe they will do it relatively easily. They have too much quality in the side and too much at stake in losing this game. Heck, a good performance on Thursday against BATE could be the jolt this club needs to shake off the doldrums.
There are lingering doubts. Will Unai Emery start Aaron Ramsey and / or Mesut Özil? The Welshman has recovered from a slight knock, and the German’s inclusion in the lineup is “in his own hands” - whatever that means. Sokratis returned to training on Tuesday and is available for selection.
With Alexandre Lacazette out with a red card suspension, can the Gunners create enough chances for PIerre-Emerick Aubameyang and his not-so-great finishing? If BATE Borisov takes away the fullback cutback from the goal line, can Arsenal find another way through?
Call me crazy but if Arsenal go out of the Europa League on Thursday, I think that should be it for Unai Emery. I don’t think the club will do it, but there is a good argument that it’s the right move.
The recent run of form has been dreadful, the longer-term form (since the smoke and mirrors winning streak) hasn’t been much better, and going out of the Europa League to BATE Borisov is embarrassing. With Unai Emery’s “specialty,” the Europa League, out of the picture but the top four not out of reach, a managerial change could save the season. Just look at Manchester United’s resurgence under Ole Gunnar Solskjær.
The dark clouds are gathering. It’s going to be a long, nervous night at the Emirates.
**Technically, a 1-0 win does not eliminate the Gunners - it forces a thirty minute extra time (where away goals still apply). Any other one-goal scoreline sees Arsenal out of the competition.
WHAT: Arsenal vs. BATE Borisov
WHERE: The Emirates
WHEN: Thursday, February 21st, 9:55 AM PT | 12:55 PM ET | 7:55 PM BT
US TV: Streaming on B/R Live ($$). Galavision (ESP).
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