Liverpool’s memorable victory over Barcelona on Tuesday night was proof positive that a tie is never over until the final whistle blows, a lesson Arsenal will need to have learned when they take on Valencia tomorrow (Thursday).
Despite the two goal deficit they face, there is no doubt the hosts will have been inspired by the high-profile heroics of Jurgen Klopp’s side and, with an away goal in hand, they won’t have to look far for inspiration.
Add to that Arsenal’s dreadful propensity to collapse under pressure and a talent for disaster in defence that shows no signs of improvement, and you have a veritable minefield of a match in store.
But it doesn’t have to be that way for the Gunners. Their best chance of success, even with a two goal advantage, is surely to approach the game as they did for the majority of the home fixture – with attacking intent and intensity.
Setting up to hold what we have is a fool’s errand and, with the side the way it is, a sure-fire way to galvanize the hosts and a boisterous home crowd.
The Gunners must trade on their strengths and that is without a doubt in their abilities in the final third.
In Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the Gunners are blessed with one of the most effective strike partnerships in Europe, and they would be foolish not to make the most of them.
Sunday’s trip to Burnley is, to all intents and purposes, a dead rubber, as there is no hope we will be capable of making up the eight-goal swing required to force a way into the top four, and that still relies on Tottenham dropping points in their final game.
With that in mind, we can more or less field a reserve side at Turf Moor and put all our eggs into the Europa League basket.
The value of an early goal cannot be underestimated – as Liverpool ably demonstrated – and, were we to pinch one on Thursday, it could render the tie more or less dead in the water, with the hosts then requiring at least three goals to level the scores. Even with this Arsenal defence, that is unlikely-ish.
I’m sure a good number of the squad will also be hurting after the humiliation of the draw with Brighton on Sunday and the ignominious way they were forced to trudge around the Emirates pitch acknowledging a near-empty stadium. The fans were clearly angry and one can only hope the players know how much they have to do to turn that situation around, particularly given the way they threw away an entire season’s hard work in the space of five seriously-winnable games.
The onus is on them now to salvage something from a season that looks like it may be about to tip over the precipice into obscurity. It was supposed to be about progress and reorganisation but it risks becoming about stagnation and clinging on to old, bad habits.
If this squad wants to return the club to its place among Europe’s elite, each and every player will need to show his mettle. There is no more room for failure because everything is riding on this game, including the futures of a number of players.
Let’s hope Tuesday’s lesson at Anfield was one that sunk in.