We’re straight back on the horse tonight as we face Bayern Munich in the Champions League.
Last season’s beaten, bottling, spineless, miserable beaten finalists come to town and on paper this looks like an extremely difficult game. The Germans are in sparkling form, topping the Bundesliga by 15 points, losing just one game in the league all season and conceding just 7 goals. In their away games they’ve scored 27 and let in just 1.
Arsenal, on the other hand, well, we’re Arsenal. Lurching from great to shabby in terms of performance, scrapping for a place in the top four, out of both domestic cups to teams we should beat, and Europe now represents our only hope of a trophy this season. And let’s not kid ourselves that it’s a very slim chance indeed. Of course stranger things have happened and ‘you never know’ in football, but realistically it’s a massive task.
Anyway, thinking about winning it at this point is a bit silly. It’s just the first knock-out round and although we’ve gone out of the competition at this stage for the last two seasons you have to go back to 2008 to see us not win our home leg. That was a 0-0 with Milan, which we followed by going to the San Siro, beating them 2-0 and seeing Cesc’s ‘Oh’ face. In 2009 we beat Roma 1-0, 2010 saw us stick 5 without reply past Porto, in 2011 there was that amazing night against Barcelona, and last season we almost pulled off the comeback of all time by beating Milan 3-0 (never forget it was the Dutch Skunk who missed a great chance to level the tie, but showboated his finish).
So, despite the fact things aren’t going exactly as well as we’d like, that record should give us some grounds for optimism. We beat Barcelona with a central defence of Djourou and Koscielny, Eboue playing right back and Bendtner coming on late in the game and playing a decent part in the winning goal. At that point they were comfortably at their peak as a team, and went ahead, so it just shows that however difficult the task it can be done. Just look to last weekend to see a ‘smaller’ team triumph in a cup competition.
With regard to team news there’s a doubt about Laurent Koscielny which, if it rules him out, would certainly affect the balance of the team. I suspect that would mean Jenkinson coming in at right back with Sagna moving over to the left, but you just never know with Arsene. He’s played Francis Coquelin at left back already this season and he might feel more inclined to keep Sagna on the right, but fingers crossed Koscielny makes it, which would allow Thomas Vermaelen to play there.
I also wonder if he might tinker a little bit with the forward players. Lukas Podolski hasn’t played in our last two games, I don’t know if this is because of injury or simply the manager’s choice, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him down the middle tonight. Or, indeed, Theo Walcott. He could pick a midfield trio of Arteta, Ramsey and Wilshere, with Cazorla on the left hand side, and even use Tomas Rosicky. Having spoken about how good a result a 0-0 draw at home is, I just think he might sacrifice Giroud and add a bit more energy to midfield to combat the quality Bayern have in there.
Above all else though we have to see a team that really wants this game. In one way it’s a frustration because we want to see them go for every single game, to approach each match with the intensity we’ll likely see tonight, but it is what it is and we have to hope there’s a reaction. Bayern are an excellent team, no question about it, but they’re just 11 men and we do have some quality in our squad. We don’t see it consistently enough but we have players who can hurt them.
It would do us no harm to be a little cautious, this is a tie played over 180 minutes after all, and if we can go there without having conceded an away goal it would definitely increase our chances of going through, but at the same time you can’t help but feel this is the leg in which we need to get goals. It’s going to be a fascinating game of football, fingers crossed we can keep our good home record at this stage of the competition going.
In other news you’ll no doubt have read by now about the manager’s performance at his press conference yesterday. Suffice to say that if what went on in that presser yesterday can be labelled as a meltdown then I’d love to see how it’d be reported when he really did lose his temper. He was tetchy and frustrated, no doubt about it, unhappy with a Sun story that suggested he was to be given a 2 year contract.
You can try and laugh it off all you like, and suggest that it’s ‘astonishing’ or ‘extraordinary’ that a story about giving a manager a new deal is in some way harmful, but they knew exactly what they were doing when they published it. The day after going out of the FA Cup against Blackburn, knowing fans are increasingly disillusioned and, let’s be honest, unhappy with the way that Arsene has managed this season (on top of others). So publishing a story like that, which he called ‘lies’ and ‘wrong’, can only be seen as a complete and utter wind-up.
Therefore, I’ve got no problem whatsoever with him being annoyed about it. He’s not a stupid man, he knows he’s under pressure, he knows his relationship with the fans is changing, and I don’t think he’s out of order in any way to stand up to falsehoods and untruths in the press. It’s funny how most people castigate the papers for making things up, except when it suits their own agenda. They’ll conveniently overlook the fact that a journalist simply invented a story because it raises their soapbox a little bit higher from which they can bleat.
The other thing to bear in mind is that Arsene Wenger is the most convivial press conference host ever. He never loses his temper, swears at journalists, bans them, has them removed from the training ground or anything like that. If you watch the videos on a weekly basis you’ll realise that 80% of the questions he’s asked are utterly inane and pointless, and he’s happy to indulge journalists when they consistently and persistently go off topic (witness the plethora of Balotelli questions just before the Man City game). I’ve seen him answer questions about politics, current affairs, other managers, other football clubs, and he plays it fair and square with the press.
So it’s a bit rich for them to go to town on him on the very rare occasion he has a little bit the hump. He’s entitled to a grumpy day as much as any of us, and while I certainly have my issues with him at the moment, I’m right behind him here. Frankly, it’s long overdue.
As it’s an evening game, there are those in time zones who won’t be able to sneak off and watch it. If so we’ll have full live blog coverage later on for you. Check back later for a post with all the info or you can bookmark the default live blog page.
We’ve also set up a Twitter account @arseblog_live which will provide important updates like goals, cards, substitutions, half-time and full time scores. If you follow that and enable SMS notifications via Twitter, you can get those updates sent directly to your phone.
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So, let’s hope the anger of the manager is transmitted to the players tonight, we see something approaching the Arsenal we know we’re capable of being, and that it’s another good European night.