Arsenal must leave it all on the pitch in win-or-bust clash with Villareal

The latent benefit of being behind in a two-leg tie is that there is much less to fear.

How often this season have we seen Arsenal caught between two stools in European competition, unsure whether to protect a lead or extend it? On almost all occasions where that has been the case, they have struggled badly and relied on a late rally or good fortune to scrape by.

In order to function at their best, this Arsenal side needs a clear sense of direction, unencumbered by pressure, nuance or possibility. This side needs a singular purpose – to go out and win.

This was perhaps best demonstrated in the second leg against Slavia Prague when, in order to progress, Arsenal needed to win, and win well. Within 30 minutes of the game starting, the tie was dead and Mikel Arteta’s side had played with a sense of verve and swagger too rarely seen this season.

If he could capture that spirit and sense of attacking menace in a bottle, Arteta would be the best manager on the planet. Deployed against an inherently cautious Unai Emery, it has the potential to be devastating but imagining it and achieving it are two vastly different things with this Arsenal side and I only hope that the importance of the occasion doesn’t overwhelm them.

In no uncertain terms, the club’s season very much rests on the Europa League and anything but success would spell trouble both in the short and possibly long term too.

If the players stop to ponder that, it will overcome them. Instead, they should just go out and play the sort of football we know they are eminently capable of. Trailing their visitors going into tonight’s game, they really don’t have much to lose.

Much of what we do and how we approach the match could depend on personnel. I don’t think there will be a single Arsenal fan out there who isn’t crossing fingers, knees, and toes on the fitness and availability of Kieran Tierney. Throwing him back into the action is enormously risky at this stage – just look at David Luiz – but if it is at all possible, it must be done.

This team is an altogether better proposition with the Scotsman in the side and doesn’t require nearly as much tactical mitigation as does Granit Xhaka. That’s not a reflection of the Swiss, who has stepped up manfully, rather an acknowledgment of how just how much Tierney does for the side – things that Granit cannot do without support from midfield.

Freeing the Swiss to slot back into midfield alongside Thomas Partey also transforms how we play in the centre of the park and, frankly, makes us a better side.

Although taking something from this game is not impossible with Granit at left back, our job will be a hell of a lot easier if he is stationed in his natural position.

Barring disaster, I would expect Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to return to centre forward, with the only other question being who slots in behind him? Will we see Gabriel Martinelli on the left with Bukayo Saka on the right? Will we see Saka left and Pepe right or maybe even vice-versa? And what of Emile Smith Rowe and Martin Odegaard, which of those two gets the nod to lead the press?

Injury may force the manager’s hand in some respects but, if everyone is available, it will be interesting to see if he plumps for form or possibility.

Whatever line-up takes to the pitch, though, their remit is clear. Emery’s side will come to London looking to hold what they have and nullify Arsenal’s threat with energy and intensity. Whatever else he is, Emery is an experienced coach and will not make life easy but, in terms of pure quality, Arsenal are clear. They must use the tools at their disposal to blow their opponents away.

It’s win-or-bust for Arsenal.

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