Football is a wonderfully forgiving world. You can be at rock bottom one day, then within a day or two gone by you have the opportunity to wash away your sins by that sweetest of things: victory. Football is a fast paced world and that can sometimes work to your advantage. Redemption can be a swift and wonderful thing in football. All you have to do is win.
That is certainly the mantra that I would be saying to each and every one of the players that are elected to play tonight. Each player has to know that they must put all of their previous transgressions to one side and focus purely on the opponents for tonight: Bayern Munich.
Arsenal rarely make it easy for themselves and tonight is testimony to that. Instead of finishing top of the group we slipped up to Schalke which meant a more difficult tie earlier on in the competition. Aside from Barcelona, I don’t think you could get more difficult than last year’s finalists, Bayern Munich. They have a plethora of attacking players that can carve open defences at will and probably should be the reigning Champions of Europe, but for Roberto Di Matteo and his selling of soul to the Devil to win the FA Cup and Champions League last year. Unfortunately for the Italian he paid the price of being at Chelski, but the way that Bayern played in that final against the Chavs should serve as both a stark reminder of their quality, but also of their weaknesses. Look, I’m not suggesting that because Chelski won on penalties, it will be an opportunity for us to do over the Germans. But I think that despite the media savaging that seems to be happening at the moment, we can win tonight and then get a result away from home. I have to believe that. Hope is the last bastion of the desperate man, and after our desperate performances in the cup competitions this year I have to hold on to hope that this Arsenal team will come out swinging tonight.
There’s no doubt that we have the ability to put on a show and prove the doubters wrong. There is no doubt that some of these players have something to prove to, well, just about everybody. but there is a doubt in their own confidence and their own belief right now. I haven’t met too many non-gooners that are giving us much chance over two legs. But we’ve seen the side grind out a result against Sunderland. We’ve seen them come back from the abyss against Liverpool after a shocking first half. So we have to believe that we can see them negate the attacking threat of Gomez, Ribery, Robben, Muller and Schweinsteiger.
I was told yesterday that Bayern have conceded just one goal away from home this year. well, I suspect we’ll have to double that tally if we want to take anything substantial to the Allianz Arena. That is a frightening statistic in its own right, but if it alleviates a little bit more pressure and provides an impetus for the players to play up to the ‘underdogs’ tag even more, then I won’t mind. We will need to see Podolski (rested on Saturday so you never know, he might actually make 90 minutes for us tonight!), Walcott and if playing, Giroud, to be on form tonight. We can ill afford profligacy in front of goal. We will need Jack to be his marauding self and Santi will need his vision and passing range to be at it’s best. I suspect we’ll see a back four of Sagna, Koscienly, Mertescaker and Vermaelen take to the field in defence, and it is my hope that the BFG can show his German international teammates a thing or two at the heart of our defence.
We will need to see an Arsenal that is quick off the blocks and up for this tonight. There are no opportunities in Champions League football for ‘second half Arsenal’ and if the same intensity is shown to Bayern as was shown to Blackburn, it will be a massacre. But here’s the thing; I don’t doubt for a second that the players won’t be infinitely better than the weekend. I think we’ll see a totally different Arsenal team that is pressing, chasing every ball and is giving the home fans something to scream about. Right now, that’s all I care about. Yes, we can assess why they can’t do that in every game should what I am predicting happen tonight, but that is a debate for another day. All we need to care about tonight is making the atmosphere amazing, the players are up for it, and we show the Germans what we’re made of.
A quick word on Arsene before I sign off for the day. I have to say I was a little embarrassed by his outburst in the presser yesterday. I’ve always admired Arsene for the dignity he has shown even in the face of some quite manipulative and spineless journalists. But yesterday had all of the hallmarks of a manager that is feeling the pressure and can potentially see the end in sight. It is a sad state of affairs. But I don’t really want to dwell on that too much right now, I want to make sure everyone with a stake in Arsenal Football Club, is behind the team and roaring them on to success tonight. I’ll leave my thoughts on Arsene for another day.
I’ll be there in all my Arsenal fineries cheering on the lads. If you are, or if you’re watching on TV, just make sure you’re screaming as much as me! Come on Arsenal!