After 10 days of inactivity from Arsenal in a competitive match (and so did I on here), we find ourselves on the cusp of the 2nd leg match between us and Bayern Munich. I say match but for the rational, it is just a matter of concluding what is already known. That by Thursday morning, we would find ourselves knocked out of the Champions League.
With 3 away goals and a 2 goals lead, Bayern find themselves with a massive advantage going into the return leg at the Allianz Arena (don’t let UEFA tell you otherwise). With our poor result in the previous match against Tottenham and Bayern’s march towards being the inevitable Bundesliga champions, I’m not optimistic enough to give us any hope of winning by a 3 goals’ margin.
Any faint hope we have going into the match, would have to be wiped away with the latest news surrounding the fitness of Jack Wilshere. He is apparently in Dubai recuperating/meeting with the doctor/undergoing minor surgery (delete as appropriate). This comes as a big blow given how important the number 10 is, to our game. His industry and his determination will be severely missed.
This may not be a recurrence of his past problem which kept him out of football for a year but it is still worrisome, nonetheless. In a way, it is something which we foreseen coming. Wilshere has been used almost continuously since his return to the game. Not the ideal way to ease him back to proper football but our hands were forced.
Surely Arsene Wenger would realise at the start that if we keep playing Wilshere, he will break down sooner or later. Even if the current prognosis is right and he only misses 3 matches in Bayern, Swansea and an England match, I still put this down to poor management. Yes, the replacement players are not of the same ilk as Wilshere but surely we could have planned for that.
By that, I mean bringing in a player or two, to share the burden with Wilshere. I don’t subscribe to the theory that bringing in an extra player would inhibit Wilshere or caused the brightest Hale End academy player to regress. If anything, Wilshere will accept the challenge and keep improving himself.
The bigger worry for me is not tomorrow’s match but rather our fight for a top 4 finish. Raise your hand if you disagree that having Wilshere in the side will dramatically increase our chances of winning most matches. Yes, I see none is disagreeing and I thank you for your good knowledge of the game. Fingers cross that we won’t see another 3 weeks being added on top of this existing 3 weeks.
It is not all doom and gloom as Kieran Gibbs has come back to the squad. His replacement during the first leg was targeted as the weak link and it is good to see Gibbs being available once again. Yet, if I’m to see from a broader perspective, I would ensure that Gibbs doesn’t play tomorrow. If I have not said it enough, I reiterate once again that tomorrow is effectively a dead rubber match. If anyone who is not 100% fit, then they have no place on the field tomorrow. More so with Gibbs, given his injury record.
Having said that, it is still fair to expect 100% from those who will be fielded tomorrow. Even though the stakes are very much against us, it is still fair to expect a committed performance from the team. There should be no shirking of tackles or saving themselves for the upcoming Premier League matches. That, is up to the manager to decide in terms of who is rested.
As I mentioned earlier, Bayern saw our weakness last time around and fully exploited it. Their strategy and game plan could be the same, except that this time, they could have both flanks to utilise. Bacary Sagna’s absence is conspicuous and while Carl Jenkinson had a rather decent effort against Tottenham, the Allianz Arena offers a far tougher proposition than our neighbours. Bayern too will be facing us without their stalwart in Bastian Schweinsteiger. Luis Gustavo should be the designated replacement. Whether that gives us the advantage in midfield, remains to be seen.
For Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott, this match represents a chance for both of them to find some form going into the crunch last 10 fixtures of the domestic league. Neither can look back at their recent performances and be proud of it. If they could find a goal or two in this match to boost their confidence, then we rest a little easier in the knowledge that we don’t have to use the back-up option (Gervinho).
The same goes for our centre back pairing, which looks likely to be Per Mertesacker and Thomas Vermaelen. They must show better concentration and organisation if they want to finish the season as a pairing. Otherwise, Wenger must be tough on them and give Laurent Koscielny the route back into the starting line-up at the expense of one of them. That means, with or without the armband.
A good performance tomorrow will put us in good stead heading towards the tail end of the season. If we win but still go out of the competition, it could provide the impetus for the players to kick on and salvage our season with a top 4 finish. If we do somehow manage to qualify to the quarter finals of Champions League, it would surely go down as one of the most memorable European outing for Arsenal Football Club.
Miracle or not, that is the question.