Why Arsenal v BATE Borisov is a must-win for the Gunners
Arsenal are set to resume their Europa League campaign tonight as BATE Borisov come to the Emirates for the second leg of the Group of 32 tie. If any match was listed as a big, must-win match, it would be this.
It seems ridiculous that a match versus a team from Belarus, who are for all intents and purposes in their pre-season, would be a must win. Especially a team that Arsenal beat collectively 10-1 in last year’s group stages.
However, this is the situation we are in. Arsenal must win big and/or avoid having BATE get an away goal. Another poor performance against this team and Arsenal’s season will have gone from mediocre to dreadful. There is no sugar coating it.
Winning the Europa League is considered by many the most likely way Arsenal can qualify for next year’s Champion’s League. It is, as many suspect, one of the reasons Emery was signed on because of his success in this particular tournament.
Emery’s approach to last week’s match, though, was the primary reason we find ourselves in the pickle.
Last week’s approach
Last week Emery set up the team as a 3-4-2-1 with two deeper lying midfielders in Xhaka and Guendouzi with Maitland-Niles and Kolasinac providing both additional defensive support and width in attack.
Arsenal bypassed the middle of the pitch in the final third, with CBs providing the first ball into one of Xhaka or Guendouzi, who predominantly put the ball into the wing-backs. From there, the wing-backs would play to either an overlapping or underlapping Iwobi or Mkhitaryan.
The two playing in the halfspaces would then cut inwards to attack looking for a run from Lacazette. However, the home side were resolute and provided very little in the way of chances as Arsenal finished the match with 13 shots of which only six were on target.
Over the course of the match, the pattern of play became ever so predictable and as the stats show, BATE defended well and over time you felt their goal was only going to come, it was just a matter of when.
We’ve already outlined it for you the must-win nature of this match. To do that, Emery has to forgo any concern about a defensive mindset. He simply has to get the best out of his team and that means focusing in on the attacking strength we have available to us.
Alexandre Lacazette will miss tonight’s match and that puts Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang as the man to lead the line.
Now, WhoScored is predicting Aaron Ramsey to play as the 10 in a 4-2-3-1. While we feel that shape is correct, I do suspect that we will finally (hopefully) see the return of Mesut Özil to the starting XI in place of the Welshman.
Having Mesut in the lineup now provides a central outlet for the passing of Xhaka or Guendouzi. Guendouzi in the last match was excellent at progressing the ball forward (notice the lack of any back passing) but most of those passes with a few exceptions were wide.
Now with Özil looking to find space to operate and receive those passes and Auba looking to make runs we have a little more of base to attack through the middle.
Hopefully, a style of play that uses the middle more can make us less predictable as we can expect BATE will look once again to pack it in and keep Arsenal frustrated.
All to play for
The good thing is that we’ve seen Arsenal play with flair, even though it’s been infrequent. We know that the players they have in the lineup and on the bench are more than enough to turn this tie around and progress to the next stage.
It all boils then down the head coach and how he sets the team up. And he’s aware of the situation as he stated in his pre-match press conference:
“For us tomorrow is a very important match, after the first result we must manage the 90 minutes and also know if we need more minutes after the 90 minutes it can be in our mind with the preparation to do that.”
The conditions for Arsenal should be more favourable and Emery should look to take advantage of that. We aren’t playing on a pitch that resembles a farmer’s field and that should play into the antagonistic style of football Emery was fond of talking about when we took over as manager.
It won’t be easy that’s for certain. If Arsenal can’t keep a clean sheet it may well be over for them. A 2-1 score won’t suffice 2-0 or anything better (3-1 even) will result in our going through.
While we’ve been critical of Emery of late, we still believe he can get this team through deep in this competition. And we believe they’ll do it tonight.