Champions League action tonight and it’s pretty much a drink at the last chance saloon for Arsenal this season. If we want to qualify from this group we’re going to have to beat Bayern at least once, and tonight seems like our best chance to do that.
There’s no hint from Arsene Wenger that he’s given up the ghost on Europe and with the news that everyone who was fit and available for Watford is available tonight (with the addition of Gabriel too), I think he’s going to pick a team to have a real go. He’s obviously mindful of the quality of the opposition, but not necessarily awed by it:
I must say we have our backs to the wall and we play against a top, top team. So I can understand the scepticism of people. But we have to prove them wrong. We’ve played great Bayern teams, at least as good as the one we play tomorrow, and beaten them. We fight the whole season to be in the Champions League, not to go out. We want to be in every competition
And he’s looking for his team to start well:
What we want is to win the game. We want to defend well, attack well and score the first goal – that is massively important in the big games. You can never promise you will score three goals in 20 minutes because that would be absolutely crazy. What we can do is start in a strong way and that is what we will try to do.
If you remember the game against Bayern back in February 2014, we started really well and had the chance to go ahead in the 8th minute, Mesut Ozil fluffing his lines from the penalty spot. That took the wind out of our sails, Robben took a tumble over Szczesny later in that half, we went down to 10 men and that was that really.
We have to try and replicate that start though. It’s easier said than done, of course. You can look at United as a blueprint, but if a manager could make his team play like that in the opening 20 minutes and score three times in every game he would. The end product might not be there, but we can certainly reproduce the effort and intelligence in our game that day.
Meanwhile, Pep Guardiola believes the pressure Arsenal are under gives us an advantage, perhaps due to the clarity of what’s required:
They have an advantage, because they have to win. When you have these kind of players at this club, with this history, you want to make the best performance possible. I cannot expect an Arsenal team that doesn’t fight for 90 minutes. We have to look for another way to compete against this kind of situation, and we have to be so intelligent and control our game.
Arsene Wenger believes the best way to avoid danger, particularly from Robert Lewandowski, is to have the ball and deny him service. Guardiola says that for his team to avoid being swamped by an aggressive Arsenal start they need to control the ball and take the sting out of the atmosphere and the Gunners game plan.
At the same time though, we often look at our most dangerous when we’re counter-attacking, so trying to marry that with the need to keep possession away from their danger men will be interesting to watch this evening. Defensively we’re going to have to be at 100% throughout because the quality they have in their team is unquestionable.
There’s an element of knock-out to this one. If we lose that’s more or less that in terms of qualifying from the group, so I suspect it will add a real urgency to our performance. The players will know they’ve under-performed badly in Europe so far this season, and much like the way they responded against United following Olympiacos, they’ll know this is a game that can restore both some pride and our chances of going further in the Champions League.
It feels a bit like a heavyweight slug-fest, two big sides going at it, and the fact that we have to get something from this game is going to make it genuinely exciting I think. Based on what we’ve done so far in Europe you wouldn’t give us much of a chance, but this Arsenal team is capable of pulling something out of the hat just when you think they’ve blown it.
Bayern go into this one with 12 consecutive wins under their belt; our start to the season in all competitions has been a little less convincing, but with 11 goals in our last 3 games, and plenty of chances created, we look more like the Arsenal we all hope we can be. I don’t doubt our motivation for tonight, it’s how we keep our discipline and ensure that we don’t let the game get away from us that will be key.
A strong start would be great, but it’s not mandatory to win this game in the opening period. An 89th minute winner will do just as well as anything else, so maintaining our defensive shape and not making mistakes that will be make our life more difficult is just as important as what we do at the top end of the pitch.
Fingers crossed we can dig in and get the result we need tonight. I wouldn’t say I’m especially confident, but I’m hopeful.
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Finally for today, if you haven’t had a chance to listen to this week’s Arsecast Extra James and I look back on Watford, ahead to tonight’s action, discuss Stan Kroenke’s rather disturbing facial hair, and lots more. Listen here or via the player below.
Right, that’s that. Catch you later for the game.