Regular readers of this sports section are aware that we followed the fortunes of Ostersunds FK during the Europa league up to their defeat against the “Gunners”. Following time honoured tradition it was decided to follow Arsenal’s progress in the same competition. This Thursday sees the “Gunners” host AC Milan in the second leg of their last-16 tie. The first game in Milan saw Arsene Wenger’s team produce a solid and polished performance, 0-2, to give them the upper hand. The “Gunners” arrived at the San Siro at arguably the lowest point of manager Arsene Wenger’s 22-year reign. A 3-0 home win over Watford in the Premier League last Sunday should give more confidence to the team before the return game against the Italians this Thursday.
A home win for Arsenal and qualification for the next round should keep the wolves away from the beleaguered manager’s door a little longer. However, only a cup victory will keep Wenger even remotely safe. That fine win over Watford ended a run of three successive Premier League defeats. Manager Arsene Wenger said his team had to “get the fans back on our side again”.
Despite an official attendance of 59,131, there were empty seats all around the Emirates with a number of season-ticket holders seemingly put off by the Gunners’ disappointing league season. Goals from Shkodran Mustafi, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan against Watford gave Wenger’s side their first league win since beating Everton 5-1 on 3 February. “We had a disappointing period and our supporters suffered like we suffered,” said Wenger. “But our job is to perform and to stick together in difficult moments, and to get the fans back on our side again.”
At the time of writing, the win leaves the “Gunners” sixth, 12 points behind fourth-placed Liverpool, who are in the final Champions League spot. However, Arsenal could still qualify for next season’s Champions League if they win the Europa League, and that competition was at the forefront of Arsene Wenger’s team selection on Sunday for the Watford game. He took a risk by making six changes. Aaron Ramsey and Laurent Koscielny were rested, with Jack Wilshere only on the bench, but the gamble paid off for Arsenal. Obviously, with the Europa League on Wenger’s mind, the Frenchman was able to take Mkhitaryan off late on for Wilshere, although Mustafi is now a doubt for Thursday’s match after he limped off in the second half. “I selected my team to have the chance to win the game and also rest some players I did not want to get injured. We are not so far to the end of the season so, any injuries, you lose them for the rest of the season.”
During the Watford game a notable piece of trivia occurred when Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech saved a penalty. That save from Cech meant he kept his 200th Premier League clean sheet, but he had to wait a while for it to come as his 199th was back on 16 December in a 1-0 win against Newcastle. There were two other notable landmarks during the game. Arsene Wenger registered his 700th Arsenal win in his 1,222nd match in charge of the Gunners. Shkodran Mustafi’s opening goal was Arsenal’s 1,000th at home in the Premier League, making the Gunners just the second team to reach the landmark after Manchester United (1,066).
For those of us with long memories and having reached a certain age we should note another notable milestone. Legendary BBC commentator John Motson was on duty for BBC Radio 5 live at Emirates Stadium for his last live commentary. Motson, 72, made his first live radio broadcast 48 years ago and during his career he covered 10 World Cups, 10 European Championships, 29 FA Cup finals and more than 200 England games. In September he announced he would call time on his BBC career at the end of the season, although he will still continue to appear on Match of the Day until May. His first radio commentary was Everton v Derby in December 1969. Motson was one of the great football commentators, and he was noted for his meticulous preparation and attention for detail.
Arsenal has conceded 41 goals thus far in the Premier League, considerably more than any other of the top 6 teams. Arsene Wenger and his team will be aware that AC Milan needs to attack fast and hard to overturn that 2 goal deficit. The storm will come quickly for the “Gunners” and their defence will need to be focused for the entire game. If they can ride that wave after wave of Italian attacks, which is sure to come, then Wenger may just get the respite that he desperately needs. All roads lead to The Local this Thursday. Come and support the “Gunners”.