I kinda hate having the first leg of such a huge tie at home, but here we are. The primary objective here is keeping a clean sheet, and any goals we score are just gravy. If we give up zero away goals, then draw that involves scoring is an aggregate win for us, as is any second leg we might lose by the same margin we win by tomorrow in which we score.
Unai Emery’s former club, one of the proudest clubs in all of Europe, Arsenal Football club were rather recent finalists in this competition (under Emery of course). This will be the third time we’ve met the Gunners in a European knockout tie, though it’s been a while and both previous ties were in the Champions League.
Arsenal has never won at our stadium, a trend we’ll hope to continue, and our opponents frankly are still a team we should beat, despite their wealth and prestige. They presently sit tenth in the Premier League, and in the league have only one win in their last five. Their leading scorers are all names you probably know, Lacazette, Aubameyang, and Pepe, but also keep an eye on the creative talents of Emile Smith-Rowe. Arsenal are 7th in the PL in both xG and xGA.
Frankly, Unai Emery has made a bit of a mess trying to rotate around the Europa League. We’ve dropped points we had no business dropping because of rotations, then Unai was surprisingly aggressive against Barcelona and yet we lost that too. The whole thing is very frustrating, but it has yet to cost us anything in the UEL (Unai Emery League). Gerard has slipped a bit off his very best form, so we’ll be hoping he catches fire again for this tie, and Paco Alcacer seems to have gotten back in Emery’s good graces and has looked pretty good as of late. The key I think will be our transition defense. I fully expect us to have our share of ball control, but we cannot afford to have a defender (I’m thinking mainly about Raul Albiol) slow in getting back if we lose the ball.
I think the first leg is rather cagey and unless we win a penalty for Gerard to bury it ends 0-0.