The completion of the underwhelming performance (but with a truly spectacular finish) against Red Star Belgrade means that we are at the half-way mark in the group stages of the 2017-18 Europa League Campaign. Arsenal have claimed 9 points out of a possible 9, and find themselves in a position to win the group with two matches remaining in the group stage. All things considered, Europa League has been an enjoyable experience from a fan perspective. So, let’s take a look at five things we’ve learned from Europa thus far.
We Can’t Count Jack Wilshere Out
Wilshere has been stellar in Europa League so far this season. In the first match of the competition against FC Koln, he made a substitute appearance and played a part in creating Arsenal’s third goal. He was then rewarded with a start against BATE Borisov and created Theo Walcott’s goal. On top of the creation of a goal, he played a lovely chip to Walcott, who then sent it back and Wilshere tucked it away…but it was ruled out because Walcott was offside…way to go Theo.
After another good performance, Wilshere was handed another start against Red Star Belgrade…and this happened…
Wilshere’s fingerprints are all over this goal. He takes the pass, beats two men, perfect pass to Walcott, one-time chips the pass to him back to Walcott…ultimately creating a perfect chance for Giroud to produce another world class finish.
After Wilshere went out on loan last season it felt as if that was going to be the end to his Arsenal career. But with Arsenal’s recent results in the Premier League, I think you would be hard pressed to find anyone opposed to Jack Wilshere being placed in the starting XI. It just makes you wonder what could’ve happened if he stayed last year and fought for his place.
Holding Is Becoming The Perfect Modern Central Defender
Rob Holding has only made four Premier League appearances in the 2017-18 season. However, he has been a starter in every Europa League match. With Mertesacker retiring from playing football after this season, an aging Koscielny, and Mustafi wanting away (maybe?), it is Rob Holding that looks like the future of Arsenal’s defense. he is someone perfect for the moment. With the media going crazy covering stories about Arsenal lacking “cojones”, including my piece from the week, Holding is the perfect response to those criticisms. He plays hard, and isn’t afraid to get physical or take a smart foul when the situation calls for it.
For instance, in the 3rd minute against Koln, Holding misplaced his first touch to intercept a through ball and it ended up creating a chance for Koln. But what did Holding? Shut it down before it became a problem. Just take a look.
Now, I’d prefer Holding have a better touch BUT I like the decision he made. Imagine if Arsenal went down 1-0 in the 3rd minute of their first Europa League match…it would’ve been terrible and the Wenger Our brigade would’ve been loud much earlier than usual.
But that is not why Holding is the perfect modern center-back, it is actually his ability to play a long ball from deep. Like so…
Elnenny does not meet the end of this ball, but if it were someone like Lacazette, or even Walcott, a real chance would’ve come from this lovely ball. The reason I make such a big deal of this trait is due to the success that Chelsea were experiencing with the dynamic between Azpilicueta and Morata. Before Morata suffered an injury, all but one of his goals came from Azpilicueta supplying deep crosses. You can take a more in depth look here where I wrote about that threat before Arsenal’s match against them a few weeks back. But if you don’t want to read more in depth, just know this…Rob Holding looks great!
David Ospina Is Not Reliable
I’m not sure where the fanbase is on the goalkeeping situations, but I am worried. I am worried about it now, and I am worried about it going forward. Cech is getting older and David Ospina is not the man to replace him. He is prone to silly mistakes and poor decision making.
Luckily this was not ruled a penalty because offside was given beforehand. However, I’m willing to bet that if the whistle had not been blown, Koln would have been given a penalty and most likely would have went up 2-0 within the first 30 minutes. That would have changed the match without a doubt, and maybe Arsenal aren’t sitting atop of the table with 9 points.
I’m honestly not even going to say anything, I’m just going to leave this here for you guys.
Wenger’s Favorite Prospect Is Maitland-Niles
He might not have the highest ceiling of the Arsenal youngsters (I’m looking at you Nelson) but Maitland-Niles might be the most reliable. He has played every minute of every game in the Europa League at this point in time, unlike Nelson or Willock who both started against BATE Borisov and Red Star Belgrade. While Wenger is showing faith in the young gunners in the Europa League match ups, it is telling that Maitland-Niles was the only one to start the first match against Koln. Especially when you consider the fact that he played LWB, where Wenger has Kolasinac and Monreal as reliable options. But Maitland-Niles has impressed, showing his stamina by playing 270 minutes and having a not-too-shabby 82% pass completion rate.
I just worry for Maitland-Niles, given that the position of LWB in the first team is well covered for at least another season. Although Wenger is no stranger to experimenting with the back line (Debuchy, Elnenny, and Holding……..?), Kolasinac has been so impressive outside that I would be hesitant to suggest a move toward the back three just to accommodate a young prospect. But we should all keep an eye out!
Giroud Will Always Be Capable Of Magic
Once again, I don’t think this point needs too much explaining. But having taken a back seat to Lacazette in the squad, and to some extent even Danny Welbeck, Giroud has found himself primarily as a Europa League striker for this Arsenal team. But the man thrives when he is only given short amounts of time to make an impact. Just look back to opening night. Giroud came on and saved the result. Against Red Star Belgrade he did the same thing…saved the result. Most of the credit for the goal could be given to Jack Wilshere, sure. But Giroud finishes a tough pass from Walcott in trademark fashion. Can anyone finish like this man?
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