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Arsenal vs Valencia Happy face, happy heart Broken, broken, broken hearts Ah, Valencia, I spent a memorable holiday there and loved it. But I can say one thing with something close to certainty, Unai Emery would probably still be manager now if the form we showed in beating Valencia in the semis of the Europa League had carried on to the Final. It didn’t and maybe it sometimes can be good to lose as I feel he didn’t fit Arsenal. He seemed a gentleman, very knowledgeable on football and his record in Spain was exemplary, as was his record in Europe. But Chelsea destroyed us, he never really recovered, and it paved the way for Arteta to take over, a manager that does fit Arsenal, even if he has his detractors. Unai Emery is part of this rivalry, though, and I will return to him in this blog. Emery's heart was taken out by Chelsea The thing is, Valencia are not a team we have played often. I will give you the bare statistics as they tell you almost nothing – 7 games, 3 wins, 3 losses and one draw. So, even stevens? Absolutely not. They have broken our hearts more than once and more than twice. And without the master from Spain, Mr Emery, maybe every tie would have gone their way. First Cut is the Deepest Let’s take the draw, the first match. We matched them, yes? Eh, no. It was the European Cupwinners Cup of 1980. It was our 70th match of the season, yes, you read that right, numerous cup replays against the great Liverpool and others meant Arsenal were tired, stretched and were beaten by West Ham in the FA cup final only 4 days before. Valencia had the exquisite Mario Kempes and the sublime Rainer Bonhof amongst others. But we had beaten the Masters Juventus on our way to the final. Liam Brady was our great and was now about to prove it on the big European stage. But their leader was the extraordinary Alfredo Di Stefano, often touted as the best player ever, as their manager. Despite his reputation, and his star names, they played it cagey, keeping a tight rein on Brady, giving away few chances. So yes, we got a draw 0-0 but they won on penalties, such a rare thing at the time that John Motson, for the BBC, kept explaining what was going to happen. Kempes missed the first and then we had Brady, very reliable from the spot. Except that night. The stars imploded. He missed. And then all the way to the 6th man and a very nervous Graham Rix needed to score. Pereira sensed his nervousness and saved quite easily. Valencia are our daddies from the start. Heart-breaking to lose 2 finals in a few days. Are you listening, Liverpool? Other teams have lost 2 trophies one after the other in heart-breaking fashion. Mario Kempes somehow missed And so the next time, Arsene Wenger had appeared. We probably had the best team in Europe yet were struggling to prove it in the Champions league. It was April 2001, the quarter finals and we had all our big stars except Bergkamp, Kanu substituting for him. They had a good team but not up to our class and so we beat them 2-1 at home after they went one up first half with Robert Ayala. Henry and it’s only Ray Parlour scored 2 in 2 minutes to give us a win. Ayala’s goal was the decider as they won the return 1-0 with a second half goal from John Carew. Again they are our daddies. We should have beaten them but somehow Wenger couldn’t do it in Europe most of the time. Heartbreak city. You have got to remember we had such a sublime side with players all clubs wanted. Liam Brady also missed Don’t go breaking my heart And so next season we got our chance for revenge. We had got through to the second group stage and played them first at home. We had Bergkamp back but we limped along to a 0-0. Then the return? John Carew scored on 34 to put them through. Eh, no, then Henry scored on 49 to put us through on away goals. Finally we will beat them? Nope, John Carew again on 57 to put them through. We learned to hate him, the big, lanky Norwegian. And so they did it again, stop sending us home crying, Valencia. Big John Carew -go away And so to our man, Emery. The poor guy suffered tremendous ad hominem attacks for us. Attacking his pronunciations, his strange English, his histrionics on the side of the pitch, in fact any personal attack that was possible. He quite rightly complained that Arteta was given far better treatment than he was despite similar results. And he was up against Valencia in the semi-finals of the Europa League in 2019, who each time before had beaten us like puppies. Owner of a lonely heart He was an expert on Valencia having managed them for several years and got them regularly into Champions league. He showed this expertise with Arsenal and a team we wouldn’t recognise today despite it only being 3 years. Cech, Kolasinic, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Koscielny, Mustafi, Aubameyang, Maitland Niles, Ozil, and Guendouzi played. But it all started out as normal – they scored after 11 minutes with Diakhaby and the curse of Valencia was still alive. Emery, despite his knowledge of the club couldn’t save us from another defeat. Except he could, Lacazette scored 2 shortly afterwards to give us a chance and then Aubameyang on 90 to give us a real chance of making the final of the trophy Emery was the master of. Not a total eclipse of my heart And so the second leg in Valencia. Surely we could finally beat them in a tie? Unbelievably they did it again on 11 minutes with Gameiro opening the scoring. I couldn’t take any more of Valencia, they always seemed to break our hearts. But this time Emery was too good for them as Aubameyang was on fire. A hat trick on 17, 69 and 88 meant it was one of his best matches. Lacazette got another on 50 so that another from Gameiro didn’t matter. We had finally got it, the win we wanted over Valencia. The bogeyman had been slain and it was Unai Emery, in his finest moment for us, who did it. To my mind, he was our most unpopular manager since Bruce Rioch but over those 2 matches he was good. Of course, Chelsea trashed us and he then tarnished that memory. Terry Neill couldn’t beat them nor Arsene Wenger, but Emery did. At least thank you for that memory. You didn’t deserve, nor does anyone, the personal attacks. 3 goals to break the Bats hearts And so, what next? I am sure we will meet them again. We have finally got on top. Let us hope that the Valencia curse has finally gone away.
Man City (H) Spurs (A) Burnley (H) Wolves (A) Brentford (H) Watford (A) Leicester (H) Villa (A) Wolves (H)? A sea of improbabilities This is probably the hardest time to predict results as a transfer window is happening all around it. I don’t know what players we will have or our opponents will have. Newcastle will probably spend big, for example, maybe transforming their squad. If Eddie Howe gets to pick players he likes they could be a lot better. But we don’t have them over the next few matches that I will cover. With 3 of these gone, will we miss them? The African cup of nations will deprive us of Aubameyang, Pepe, El Neny, and Partey with the last 2 the biggest problem at the moment. As far as I know the teams in this run are not going to lose significant players like us so that might have an impact, El Neny and Partey being defensive midfielders. If Maitland Niles goes and Xhaka gets sent off or injured I am not sure what DM’s we have left. Asking a lot of Lokonga who is still a little wild. It will more impact our 2 cup runs in this period and it could leave us out of both. But’s let’s be optimistic. I am hoping for a cup win this year. Can Auba make a deadline for once? Aubameyang? Can he come back, show the skills and scoring ability we all know he has? I have reservations about such types of players, who seem to think that the rules are for the little guys. But I do feel he has a genuine love of the Arsenal and if he got a wake-up call with this, knuckled down and worked like a demon, he could yet show us how he can be world class. And that would make a huge difference to the rest of the season. Listen to your manager, Auba With this Covid we also don’t know what or if any more matches will be postponed. I have included Wolves twice as I suspect they will try and include that match in this period. Neither ourselves or Wolves have European games. All the results – right here right now Anyway I am not going to give up, I will still try and predict the future. I have done pretty well so far last season and this, considering how impossible the task is. I seem to get to within 3 points all the time and again this time, I was optimistic by 3 points, we got 35 I said 38 in my last attempt. Waving your hands, Pep, may not help against your protege Man City at home. Surely the toughest match of all? They are knocking over teams in their sleep, good or bad ones. And we have looked poor against the top teams so far. So a guaranteed win for the Light Blues? I have a sneaky feeling that they are due a bad match. Why not against us? Arteta knows City in a way Guardiola cannot know Arsenal. If he can figure out a way, and we play to our best, we have a chance. Our big problem is the way we hand chances to everyone, including Norwich, with disastrous back passes and suchlike. City will destroy us if we do that. But if City misfire, then away we go. I am going to say 2-1 to us and a great start. 38 points What’s their new stadium called? And then the Spuds. In their shiny new stadium and their dogged new manager, I can’t see it being easy. We struggle with teams unafraid to defend. There are so many inponderables, Covid, injuries, transfers but I am hoping that we get an undeserved win this time. We don’t play all that well but somehow get a win a bit like Mourinho contrived against us some time ago. 1-0 to the Arsenal. 41 points Burnley? This is a game we have to win, surely? Sean Dyche has had a few unlucky defeats against us and this time the gods favour him and he gets a lucky draw where we totally outplay them but the ball refuses to go into the back of the net. 0-0. 42 points Almost Eaten by Wolves Wolves away? Away games are getting better for us but this is a banana skin. Wolves are an up and down team, like us and I feel this is going to be one of those games where, in the end, we get a late goal to give us 2-2 and the euphoria of the first two wins dwindles. 43 points Brentford at home and we are out for revenge. We are ready, we are pumped, we challenge for everything, Tomiyasu and Gabriel stand strong and Ramsdale laughs at the Brentford hard men and their jeering supporters and we run out 2-0. Back on track and 46 points No cojones? Wat For? Watford? We will never forgive Troy Deeney for saying we have no cojones and despite home advantage, we grind them into the ground 3-0. 46 points Stick your cojones in your ear, Troy Leicester. There was a time when Brendan Rodgers was linked with us. To be honest I didn’t feel he was right but he has done a good job with Leicester. They have good players and with them all fit, are a match for most. I feel that this is the one that gets away from us despite the fact mostly we do well against them. 1-2 to Leicester. Still 46 points Stevie G crying The Villa? Under Steven Gerrard? No, no, no. We bounce back. We play well. We send them home crying. First we sing 1-0 to the Arsenal then 2-0 to dee Arsenal. 49 points. 2-0 to dee Arsenal, Stevie G And Wolves in the rearranged fixture at home. We are just too good for them at home despite the fact they score an early goal. We are so annoyed that we can’t sing one nil to the Arsenal that we fire in 3 against them. 52 points We can see Champions League And so nicely set up for our final assault. With our closing 9 matches we can get to 79 points if we win them all. We can push up around the 70 if all goes well. That would be a repeat of the first half. Should be enough for Champions League. However, we badly need to keep our good run going and we need to do much better against the top teams. It is asking a lot of a young team to be so consistent. Like I said earlier, if Aubameyang finally acts like an adult, uses all his experience and abilities, that would make a difference. One more experienced player in the transfer window, maybe a class DM, could add another layer of maturity. We could finally get back where we belong, in the Champions league. Last season, I said in this blog that without Saka, Tierney and Leno we are in trouble. Now that has all changed, we have lots of key players all over the pitch. The only areas I am a bit worried about is Tomiyasu, Gabriel and yes, that man Ramsdale. We do not have like for like cover for those. Let’s hope they stay fit. Go Arsenal and a final little thought. Rumours persist that Jack Wilshire may get another chance. Now that is a fairytale thought, but sometimes, if you dream hard enough, fairytales come true. Go Jack! Come back, Jack!