I love the latter stages of the Champions League for so many reasons; the customary song which is played before kick-off, the flags that adorn the pitch as the players stroll down the tunnel, the clashes of European heavy-weights, and the electrifying buzz that pulsates through the crowd for the entire 90 minutes. Every season AFC guarantee us these monumental games that live long in the memory of fans. When you think of the number of clubs that strive to experience these nights and never do, clubs who spend millions just to scrape into the group stages, I know that we should never take games like this one against Bayern Munich for granted. Sure we can’t be classed as favourites in this tie, but when has this recent Arsenal side ever enjoyed being given that title anyway (cough. . Blackburn)?
There are rants to be had, and hopes that need to be built up that’s for sure, so I will leave you to get stuck into our match preview. Hopefully in the same way Arsenal will approach this game!
Tom S 08.16
There have been a few moments this season where the phrase ‘low point’ has been bandied about, and deservedly so I might admit, but the end of Saturday’s game felt closer to ‘the beginning of an end’. The end of what exactly I still don’t know.. the chance of silverware this season? Almost certainly. The end of Arsene? Quite possibly. The end of Arsenal’s credibility as a force in English football? (Buries head once again in sand!) The atmosphere at the Emirates after the game was certainly a big reflection of this; fans almost coming to blows with each other and frustration fuelled arguments rippling across North London. Scenes not many would have believed possible when the stadium was first unveiled.
Looking objectively I really don’t think that the players in the starting line up disgraced themselves. The finishing was poor across the front 3 and there were lapses in concentration/desire across the board, but it’s worth remembering that a team with Diaby, Coquelin and Rosicky – none of whom have compiled many minutes on the pitch let alone together – was always asking for a rusty start to the game. Throw Gervinho and an out-of-form Ox into the mix and it’s really no wonder that a physical, passionate Blackburn team were able to steal a win. Szczensy should have done better with the shot having stood idle for the majority of the game, but had Rosicky shot a couple of inches lower moments before, or Arteta shot a few inches to the left or Gervinho just been. . . well, better at football, Arsenal would not have lost.
However, none of that happened and there is no doubt that in resting Wilshere, Cazorla, Walcott, Podolski, Ramsey and Sagna, Arsene frankly did not give a dangerous Championship team enough respect and got it very, very wrong. I understand the argument that a top four finish is more important that the Cup, I actually agree, but in this case Wenger was clearly playing with an eye on Bayern, which just doesn’t make sense. If the season ends with Arsenal trophy-less and outside the Champions League places I think this result may be the one that loses Wenger his job!
Looking to Munich, though, I would love to jump on the ‘rose-tinted’, ‘half glass full’ band wagon and predict that a stung Arsenal team will turn the Germans over in the Emirates. Unfortunately, the startling reality is that even with all the usual suspects back in the team there is still a gulf in quality between us and Bayern, even before comparing confidence levels between a team steam rolling the Bundesliga and a team that well.. just lost to Blackburn. I just hope that Wenger’s failure to strengthen the team will not be severely exposed, especially if Giroud continues to dip in and out (mostly out at the minute) of a game and the jumbled back 4 can’t find some overnight cohesion. It’s hard to criticise a man with hair like Giroud but his inconsistency this season is starting to get tiring, I know he hasn’t had the same amount of time to adjust as Van Persie did and that he has shown some good movement and ambition, but the overwhelming verdict has to be that he is just not a talented enough player to lead the line for a top team. In contrast, David Villa has excellent hair but is also a proven, world-class, instinctive striker and would have been a fantastic signing and signal of intent. I hope I am wrong and we can somehow overturn the Germans. Champions League nights are always special, but I think I will have to leave it to you boys to try to capture it better in words.
Well Tom, as the boos rang out on Saturday evening Wenger did look more and more like Basil Fawlty; a manager intent on creating the farcical from something as straightforward as that game. It always feels like we have a couple of weeks in February where we get knocked out of the cups and our season just peters out. The funny thing is we have been knocked out of the 2 English cups by teams beginning with B now, so you have to fear where this one is going.
The performance on Saturday was typical Arsenal yet again, plenty of possession, corners (we look more dangerous from a goal kick!) and attacks but zero end product. It was all too lethargic and relaxed. As I’ve said before, teams must really enjoy coming to the Emirates. It’s plush, you get a nice welcome, the facilities are top of the range and you even get to play on a carpet.
On Tuesday we know the red carpet will be rolled out for Bayern Munich, and there are not many bigger teams out there at the minute. If that doesn’t get some of the players fired up then I don’t know what will. Schalke came to the Emirates earlier on in the season and won pretty easily in the end. With Bayern around 18 points clear in the German league and boasting a roster of players to make even Man City jealous, failure to approach this game in the right manner could mean the tie is out of sight before the away leg. Players such as Gomez, Kroos, Ribery and Muller are all experienced at this level and will punish any sniff at goal we give them. They are also marshalled well at the back with the excellent Manuel Neuer in net so creating chances will take more than a Gervinho shuffle I’m afraid.
All that being said, I don’t think the Blackburn defeat will have too much effect on the Arsenal squad as this is Arsenal’s last chance of silverware and so we just have to go for it. Bayern will be more attacking than Blackburn and leave more spaces in behind so the pace of Walcott and the guile of Wilshere will be pivotal. In previous years we have played Barcelona and gotten a result remember. They also don’t have Messi in their side so that’s certainly helpful. It’s a massive tie and one which could end our season if we get knocked out. If, however, we can exploit their defensive absences, I feel a solid 2 goal cushion over them would be a great result. It’s a mouth-watering tie in prospect and one we have to relish and believe we can win. COYG!!
I have an interesting stat for both of you. Of the 18 games we have played against German opposition in the Champions League, we have won 7 and drawn 4. I’ll leave you to work out how many that means we have lost, but I don’t think it is time to throw in the white flag just yet! We have toppled giants before and, lest we forget, many of our key players were rested against Blackburn. Maybe because Wenger’s lost the plot, or maybe just because we really believe we can win the competition. Nevertheless, throw Podolski, Mert, Walcott, Wilshere, Sagna and Santi into the team, and we have a list of internationals to match the best of them.
We saw how Wilshere stood up under pressure while playing for England against Brazil. More of the same from him and a rocket up the arse of player’s like Giroud and Arteta and we could still be dancing our way to Munich for beer and sausages. As you have said Nick, Walcott’s pace is a real asset and the emphasis will be on us taking the game to Bayern. Rumours circulating about Wenger having signed a new contract, but frankly, it’s not the time to discuss these things. We need to get behind our team and remember that night’s like tonight are only experienced by an elite few. For now anyway, Arsenal are one of those elite. . . COYG!!
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