The old adage – “a game of two halves” was completely embodied in our Europa League Final defeat.
Our bid to win a European trophy for the first time since 1994 crashed and burned in the face of concerted Chelsea pressure, but if we’re honest, the Blues merely raised their game a few percent.
What really was our downfall was a combination of elements that haven’t been rectified for a myriad of reasons.
The result was a capitulation that saw Chelsea lift the trophy with consummate ease. Arsenal barely got out of the blocks and failed to maximise the few opportunities that came our way in the first half – and some of our more established players need to look hard in the mirror after our kids showed them up when they came on.
It leaves our season in tatters. The main lesson to take away from our entire campaign is one of failing to take our chances – our Premier League campaign ended in fifth spot after we limped over the line with a top4 spot firmly in our grasp.
So where did it all go wrong in Baku? Here’s some errors that combined to ruin our Europa League dream, and our season:
Weak mentality when conceding
One of the things that has been a telltale sign of Emery’s first season in charge is how our team responds when we give away a goal. So many times we have let our heads drop and allow our opponents to take the game by the scruff of the neck – and so it played out in Baku. When Giroud scored his header, the typical response from a side hungry to win would be a five minute spell of steady possession, followed by attack after attack. That didn’t follow, and the Blues bossed things. Easily.
Flaky press needs to improve
The game is changing, but an effective press always helps. When we’ve employed this well, our high press has forced errors high up and so we regain possession near the opponents box and we crank up the pressure. This was another thing that didn’t manifest. Every now and then we did so in the first half and we had a few chances that could’ve changed things. Alas, it wasn’t to be, but a decent press could have forced the issue a bit more.
Too much space for Hazard – and his teammates
The second half was a horror show, and how many times did you scream at the TV to close down a Chelsea man? So often we afforded them the space to make the right decisions. To do that in our final third? Criminal, and we deserved what we got. Far from good enough
Ozil was garbage – but who could hold their head high?
Ozil is our version Hazard – the man in our team with the expectation to change things. He didn’t do anything of note, whereas Hazard signed off his Chelsea tenure in style. But it wasn’t Ozil who was solely responsible. We’ve heard for weeks how much our team wants this, but none of them upped their levels. Torreira didn’t snap at heels, Xhaka didn’t employ his full range of passing. Kolasinac had four opportunities in great positions to put a ball in – and failed with each of them. Yet Academy products Iwobi and Willock came on and immediately gave us more purpose.
A clearout is needed
Some of our more established players have not lifted our club where it is meant to be. Emery needs to be ruthless – he has been at times in his first campaign – and sell those that have let him down. There can be no room for sentiment. We could bring in a few extra quid for another signing, and whatever our budget doesn’t allow for, our kids can fill the gaps, as they deserve a shot. Nelson, Smith-Row, Mavropanos, Holding, Willock, Saka, Medley, Chambers – give them the spots that have been wasted by others.
Emery has his work cut out this summer, as does Raul Sanllehi. Both need to rebuild the squad and bring in players willing to make the most of the opportunities that they have.
So we don’t have another night like this.