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Dublin: 1°C Friday 7 May 2021

Arsenal come to town as Dundalk bid to end topsy-turvy season on high

Filippo Giovagnoli’s side are looking for their first points of the campaign as they face already-qualified Arsenal at the Aviva Stadium.

Mikel Arteta with Filippo Giovagnoli after the 3-0 Arsenal win at the Emirates on Matchday 2.
Mikel Arteta with Filippo Giovagnoli after the 3-0 Arsenal win at the Emirates on Matchday 2.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

AND SO TO Dublin, where a rookie manager subject to much media pressure and scepticism in spite of winning the domestic cup faces Filippo Giovagnoli and Dundalk. 

While Arsenal’s Europa League campaign has pretty much been exemplary – they are already through with five wins from five, having scored 16 goals and conceded three – their Premier League form has been wretched. 11 games in, Arsenal are 15th and desperately struggling for goals. 

Mikel Arteta’s plight is beginning to dip into the dangerously whimsical territory that became of Wenger Out, with a spokesperson for UK Labour leader Keir Stamer yesterday piggybacked on the ongoing Memeing of Arsenal. 

“Under Keir’s leadership of the Labour Party he has shown what competent leadership looks like and the results it can deliver. He would happy to give Arsenal some tips.”

No Irish political figure had come forward to help Filippo Giovagnoli at the time of writing. 

Two days after the FAI Cup final win, Giovagnoli signed a permanent contract as manager, with assistants Giuseppe Rossi and Shane Keegan also penning deals. Jim Magilton has been appointed as Sporting Director too, which should bring some more order behind the scenes. 

Among Magilton’s earliest jobs may be agreeing new deals with the bulk of the current squad, with 18 players out of contract after tonight’s game. 

Defender Sean Hoare is among them, and says it may prove to be some added motivation tonight. 

“Possibly. You’ll be unemployed in a week. You’re playing your best to get a contract whether it’s here or elsewhere. You’ve to give a good account of yourself. I think it’s a good motivating factor.”

Giovagnoli won’t be involved tonight: he is suspended as he doesn’t have the requisite UEFA Pro Licence. Keegan instead takes charge tonight, with Giovagnoli forbidden from standing on the touchline or entering the dressing room. 

filippo-giovagnoli Filippo Giovagnoli. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“It’s not ideal and it leads to very long conversations beforehand because you have to weigh up all of the different scenarios, in terms of how the game goes and how individuals are doing”, said Keegan at the pre-game press conference.

“There’s a lot of prep that goes into it, there’s a little bit of having to figure out as we go along. The amount of prep we put in leaves us very well versed. Any action or communication from us is what we think would be coming out of Filippo’s mouth if he was there.” 

Preparations haven’t been perfect. Dundalk trained at the FAI’s pitches at Abbottstown ahead of the game, but the floodlights didn’t come on and so they relocated to the IRFU’s indoor facility next door after a short delay.

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(It means the group has come full circle for Dundalk chairman Bull Hulsizer, who threatened to take all of the Dundalk games to Windsor Park in a strop over the moving the first game from the Aviva as it clashed with an Irish rugby kicking practice.) 

Still, that Dundalk arrive into this game off the back of a Cup final win is far preferable to the alternative. 

“It’s a nice handy one to wrap it up!”, said Keegan. “Let’s be honest, it would have been a long and horrible week if we’d lost on Sunday. Everybody would want the season to wrap up. When it does go in your favour, there’s smiles on your faces and no talk of tiredness and fatigue and everyone is looking forward to another crack at a superclub.” 

Keegan’s primary job at Dundalk is opposition analysis, though didn’t entirely retain a detached analytical eye when catching up on Arsenal’s North London derby defeat at the weekend. “I had it recorded, partly through my professional role and partly because I’m a Spurs fan. I watched it back on Monday moreso for enjoyment than for professional [reasons]. The Europa League games are the ones we need to be looking at, in terms of how they will be set up.

“There have been fairly clear trends, eight or nine bodies in the Europa League squad different compared to what they play in the Premier League every week.” 

Dundalk lost the reverse game at the Emirates Stadium 3-0, and Hoare is aiming to improve tonight.  

After the third goal, straight after half-time, we played really well and didn’t concede again. So if we can put a few passes together and get up the pitch a little further, maybe give them something to think about defensively.  Look, there’s no denying they are a world class team and no matter who they put out it will be really tough. As Shane said, we will have to get a nine or 10 out of 10 performance and see where that leaves us.” 

Hoare also admitted Dundalk must defensively improve on set pieces, having conceded twice from corners in the Cup final against Rovers. 

The Aviva pitch looked to be in pretty rough condition by the end of Sunday’s Cup final, staged as it was a day after an Irish rugby game, with Jack Byrne labelling the surface as “a joke.” Arsenal made the decision not to train on it ahead of tonight’s game, instead training in London before getting on a flight. 

Arteta left many of his heavy-hitters behind, though wasn’t willing to name them in his press conference. 

Dundalk’s only injury absentees are Sean Murray and Pat Hoban, with Stefan Colovic in contention for a return. 

Their season has been berserk at times, but with the chaos behind the scenes settling down and the FAI Cup secured, it has taken on the hue of success. Getting their first points of this campaign tonight would be the perfect way to embrace the off-season. 

Dundalk (Possible XI): Rogers; Gartland, Hoare, Cleary; Gannon; Shields, Sloggett; Dummigan; Mountney, McMillan, Duffy

Arsenal (Possible XI): Runarsson; Cedric, Mustafi, Mari, Kolasinac; Elneny, Maitland-Niles, Willock; Nelson, Nketiah, Pepe

On TV: Virgin Media Two; KO 5.55pm 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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