We may be going out on a limb here, but Arsenal’s Europa League semi-final first leg home draw against Atlético Madrid is the most Arsenal thing to happen to Arsenal this season.With no context, a home draw with Diego Simeone’s men is nothing to be sniffed at. Let’s not forget that Atléti are the second-best team in La Liga this season, while the Gunners languish in sixth in the Premier League.
The opportunity that presented itself at the Emirates last night, however, was one that so desperately needed to be taken. For the sake of the Arsenal fans, for the sake of the Arsenal players and for the sake of the outgoing Arsene Wenger.
Not only did Arsenal have over 80 minutes to score more than one goal against a team with ten men, they managed to concede a sloppy goal to said team. A team which was clearly happy to return to the Spanish capital with just a 1-0 deficit to overturn next week.
Of course, Atléti defended like trojans as they always do. But Arsenal had an in-form striker in Alexandre Lacazette and a less than shabby supporting cast of Ozil, Ramsey and Welbeck.
The defending leading up to Antione Griezmenn’s equaliser was schoolboy, pathetic and, let’s face it, classic Arsenal. How many times in recent years has this club conceded a sloppy goal at an absolutely crucial time of an important game?
The wider point here is that Arsenal undoubtedly faced the hardest semi-final draw, but after ten minutes of the first leg (at home) they were presented with a phenomenal opportunity to navigate their way to the Europa League final and, potentially, back into the Champions League for the first time in two seasons.
Spurning great opportunities is something we have come to expect of the final Wenger squad. Think Leicester winning the title in 2016, being drawn against a (poor at the time) Monaco side in the last 16 of the Champions League a year earlier.
All this being said, the award for most Arsenal thing to happen to Arsenal this season is hardly cut and dried. There are numerous other contenders, including letting their best player join Manchester United (again), surrendering their FA Cup defence to Nottingham Forest (and a brace-scoring defender whose previous career goals total amounted to six), and playing a scintillating 90 minutes of football against Mourinho’s United at the Emirates but coming away as the losing side.
But what this does show is that Arsenal undermining themselves by doing Arsenal things needs to stop and that all starts with the departure of Wenger in the summer. Whoever takes over needs to rip up his rulebook and start afresh.
The thought of past players Patrick Vieira or Mikel Arteta taking over is worrying – will they just try to emulate the man who went before them? Luis Enrique, Carlo Ancelotti or another older manager with their own identity and past successes would surely be a better choice of successor.
Admittedly, Arsenal could quite conceivably go to the Wanda Metropolitano next week and put in a swashbuckling performance to secure their place in the Europa League final and render the last half an hour writing this piece even more pointless than it already was.
But an outstanding one-off performance is just too typical and just not enough if the Gunners want to return to the top table of the Premier League, let alone European football.
We’re sure Arsenal fans would agree that the most Arsenal thing to happen to Arsenal needs to go back to being thousands of Emirates fans simultaneously dropping their hot dogs and raising their arms in synchronised anger and bewilderment at the latest tumble and subsequent roll around taken by Jacky Wilshere.
Written by Conor Shilling