Tuesday, April 16, 2024

UCL draw lineup confirmed + laser-focused Raya

Morning all, has everyone recovered from Tuesday?

I wouldn’t blame you if you haven’t. I had so much adrenaline coursing through my veins when I got home from the Emirates that despite being shattered when I hit the hay just after 1 am, I found myself staring at the ceiling reliving the angst and joy of it all for another couple of hours. 

Having been frustrated when the Chelsea game – originally scheduled for this Saturday – was postponed, I admit, it now feels like a blessing. I need the break, so god knows how the players feel. Mikel Arteta hasn’t rotated his starting lineup that much in the last few weeks and there are players in the squad who must be running on fumes. Judging by Martin Odegaard’s comments, that is indeed the case. 

In his post-game media huddle, he said:

“I think you saw a lot of tired players out there but they kept on pushing us and we got there in the end together, so it’s an amazing feeling. At the moment it [the break] feels good. I’m so tired. I think we need a few days to recover now and then we’re going to focus on Man City after the break. A lot of players are going away now for the international break and then we’ll come back and we’ll keep on pushing then.”

I imagine there was a recovery session at London Colney yesterday afternoon, perhaps a quick debrief, and then the players were told to go home and put their feet up. We can only hope those called up by their countries are treated sensibly in the next couple of weeks. 

Looking ahead, our qualification to the Champions League quarter-finals means we’re facing a real fixture pile-up on our return. Our showdown with Manch115ter City on 31 March starts a run of six games in 17 days. After that, things are a bit up in the air. Our trip to Wolves on 20 April will be off if Gary O’Neill’s side beats Coventry in the FA Cup on Saturday, however, before we get excited about a decent break between European action and the North London derby on 27 April, it’s likely the postponed Chelsea game will be squeezed into the schedule midweek ahead of the game at Sp*rs. 

In his post-Porto press conference, Arteta was asked how qualifying for the quarter-finals will affect the rest of the season. While he’s delighted to progress, his answer reveals an obvious concern; preparation time will be tight. 

“If you are out, you think one less competition, we can focus on the league, more time to prepare for games but now the energy that it brings amongst the squad, amongst the club it’s really powerful.”

After Inter (Alexis Sanchez bringing shame on the House of Atom & Humber) and PSV were dumped out last night, all eyes turn to tomorrow’s draw. There are no seedings and no country protection, so anything goes.

Take your pick from Barcelona, Bayern Munich. Manch115ter City, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and Atletico Madrid. If you squint you can also see the bonus ball with Olympiakos’ name on it. 

I’ve always felt like our presence in this year’s Champions League is a bit of a free hit for Arteta. While qualification from the group was expected, no self-respecting Arsenal fan started the season demanding we win the competition. I still feel that way now and would be happy to draw a glamour side sooner rather than later to see how our boys stand up. By that I mean, Barca, Bayern or Real. 

I only have one request…that we don’t draw City just yet. At this point, the prospect of three games against them in 18 days makes me want to vomit. 

Whatever happens next, Arteta is clearly happy with the direction of travel.  

He said: “It’s another big step, especially as a club. The last seven years we haven’t been in this competition, the last 14 we haven’t been where we are today. That’s the difficulty of it, the best thing is we are not satisfied, we want more and we are going to try to go through the next round for sure.”

Elsewhere, it was really interesting hearing from David Raya after Tuesday’s game. He’s understandably kept a low profile since arriving on loan from Brentford but having thrust himself into the limelight, he was happy to discuss the level of planning undertaken by the goalkeeping department for penalty scenarios. 

Facing questions from the CBS Sports pundits, he said: “We’ve been practising since the start of the season to be fair. We have to. Even in the Premier League you can decide [a game] on a penalty and in moments like this you have to be ready when you are asked to do it so I think all the hard work that we’ve been working in training paid off.”

“Before the game obviously you see the penalties and you know which player [takes them] and you might think where he goes and you have the percentage [likelihood] and all that, so you have to [study], but I don’t want to say too much. Just follow the plan.”

He also touched on how mentally draining it is to be a goalkeeper at the highest level and the absolute necessity of constant focus. 

“You get drained after games being a goalkeeper. Maybe not leg-wise, but mentally, you have to be so focused since the first minute until the last minute. You cannot switch off for one second. 

“You see sometimes [outfield] players, they can switch off for a few minutes because they’re not involved. But keepers, you never know when you’re going to be involved. So you have to switch on and be focused on the ball.” 

I think we’ve all had enough of the Ramsdale vs Raya debate – it appears settled anyway – but it’s hard not to draw comparisons between the Spaniard’s words and those of his colleague who has openly admitted he has trouble concentrating for 90 minutes and sometimes needs to create a tension with opposition fans to maintain focus. That alone hasn’t led to Ramsdale falling down the pecking order but it won’t have gone unnoticed. 

As for Raya, it’s great to see him growing in stature. He was near faultless on Tuesday and any sense of imposter syndrome appears to have dissipated. It was great watching him gee up the crowd before the shootout, now he just needs a chant of his own to solidify his relationship with the fans. 

I saw someone on Twitter (apologies, I couldn’t find the original tweet) suggest we repurpose the Dani Ceballos song. 

“Oh David Raya, Oh David Raya, he drinks Estrella, he eats paella, his hands are f*cking massive…”

It works for me…

Finally for today, David Ornstein reports in The Athletic that Ben ‘Golden Thighs’ White has signed a new and improved contract at Arsenal. There are no surprises there, he’s been in talks for quite some time and a deal was reached in principle a while back. It’s well-deserved. I guess we can expect the club to confirm that and the extension of Takehiro Tomiyasu soon enough. 

One last thing before I go…a quick congratulations to Arsenal Women’s Amanda Ilestedt after it was announced she’s expecting her first child. Listen out for Beth Mead’s contribution in the short video the club put together to celebrate a special moment. 

I should have said at the outset that Blogs is out of action this morning but he’ll be back tomorrow!

Catch you soon. 

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