After a miserable first leg in which we went down 3-1 in France it was always going to be an uphill battle trying to get through to the next round. There were doubters, myself included, however the team was resilient and got the job done. For the first time in many seasons almost every game remaining for the rest of the season now matters. We may not be challenging for the League but there is plenty to play for.
Throughout the season, especially early on, one thing has stood out for me, which is the resilience and ability to fight and get the job done. We still have a long way to go don’t get me wrong, but whenever we’ve fallen behind, most of the time Emery has been able to make proactive changes and also instil that mentality into the players to push and come back. This was evident in our 22 match unbeaten run, and while we have been on a bit of a slump ever since, in recent times, we are seeing signs of that fight come back. It was fantastic to beat Manchester United so comprehensively after they’d just had their euphoric victory against PSG, and this performance against Rennes was also a sign things are changing.
Overall, there are still issues with the defence and away form. Taking nothing away from today’s performance, however, we must remember these ties are 180 minutes not 90. Far too often we are going behind, particularly away from home and this needs to be improved, especially with the likes of Valencia, Napoli and Villarreal potentially waiting for us in the next round. Despite our great home form, we cannot afford to lose the first leg like we did against BATE or Rennes and then take it for granted we will turn it around at home against teams of that calibre.
Even though we aren’t in the Champions League at the moment, the teams that are awaiting us in the next round are all ex-Champions League teams like us, so this in many ways feels like a Champions League type fixture. Our game for the full 180 minutes needs to lift in order to achieve passage into the next round.
There’s also the league. A rich vein of form from us and Spu*s being Spu*s, means the race for the last two places in the top 4, are being fought for by two teams. Every league fixture, home and away going into the end of the season is crucial and cannot be taken for granted. We do have an ‘easier’ run in than most of our rivals, but as we know there are no easy games in the Premier League.
When Emery took over from Wenger one objective was clear which was to get back into the Champions League, and this must be achieved this year. I am glad that in mid-March we are still in a position to fight for top 4 and the Europa League, and we get two shots at achieving our goal.
Hopefully the training camp in Dubai will have the players nice and refreshed. We all know that players that come from other leagues always talk about how crucial a winter break is for them, and while this isn’t winter, it is an extended break nonetheless, and I expect the boys to come out fit and firing and end the season strongly.
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