Wednesday night was a real turn up for the books. Far from the widely predicted blood bath, we were treated to a display of genuine guts and a willingness to put a shift in for one another (and indeed for the manager who lets not forget has deflected a great deal of stick away from the squad in recent weeks). Not quite enough for a miracle in Munich, but still a tremendous effort from the lads!
The decision to start Koscielny and Mertesacker at the heart of the defence certainly paid off. Furthermore, the attitude of those playing in front of them was far more determined and we again proved to ourselves that we can compete with (and defeat) the best teams in the land. For sure there remain doubts about the consistency of our defensive endeavours this season, regardless of who we pair at the back, although one thing is becoming apparent; Vermaelen should no longer be allowed to rely on the title of club captain as guarantee for a starting berth. Another special mention must go out to Carl Jenkinson; from the start of the season he has been unfairly chastised at times. Wednesday night was proof that not only does he have the heart to play for Arsenal (for any doubters out there please also check out the Arsenal wallpaper in his bedroom!) but most importantly the ability to perform for us. Wenger needs to take a long hard look at the right back position. Sagna may be experienced, and yes has been a good servant to the club over the years, but now is the time to look to the future. Out with the old, in with the new.
Another interesting (and fruitful) change was the replacement of the One and Only for Lucasz Fabianski; the young Pole pulling off a string of accomplished saves to keep our hopes alive in the tie. I am not alone in saying that I would be rather content to see Wenger continue with an approach of picking form players rather than reverting to type cast in the shape of Szczesny of Vermaelen.
Whilst many praises were splashed across the back pages yesterday morning, the match cannot be described as a vintage Gooners performance though. The scoreline reflected our improved defensive guile as a collective, but precious few times did we manage to break Bayern down. Our backs were against the wall for much of the game and the Germans created far more attempts on goal. This was probably however in large part a reflection of their increased focus and intensity after conceding the first goal; a superbly executed cross from Walcott (yes it must have been intended as a cross!) into the path of the marauding Giroud. A simple yet clinical finish.
Yet still, the overall result stands – although we won the skirmish in Munich, we ultimately lost the war. As Gooners we should be extremely dissatisfied with a Champions League exit before the Quarter Final stages, regardless of how well we played in the away leg. I am very afraid of us slipping into the mindset of the perpetual underdog. If a transformation of sorts does not happen soon, then as a club it is inevitable that we will slowly slip away into the European wilderness. The only way to remedy this and to provide necessary belief that we are worth our place in such a competition is become a force in the league once again. So onto the weekend’s match away to Swansea….
This is not going to be an easy tie, especially as the Swans are undefeated at home in the league this year and are riding high off the back of their recent League Cup triumph. A win for them on the weekend would give them their fourth consecutive league win. I would be surprised if Wenger appoints Gibbs at left back, despite his assured performance mid-week after returning from injury. Monreal may well be called upon to deputise. Vermaelen in my opinion is also a 50/50 call; form suggests he won’t start the game, although given the exertions placed on Koscielny and Mertesacker against Bayern I would not be surprised if he does. Watch this space as to who starts the match in goal – arguably it is unfair to deny Fabianski, but Wenger also appreciates the fragility of Chezzers confidence right now; he is undoubtedly a talented keeper when on song, although he is a character that needs to know that his manager has completer belief in him – do not be surprised if he starts the game.
The one area of concern for me is upfront. Walcott seems to have gone off the boil in recent weeks, Giroud is, well….Giroud, and Podolski is an uncertainty due to his ankle knock (although I am hopeful that he can at least feature in the game). The return of Tomas Rosicky is a huge bonus for us – Wenger admitted as much by saying that “a big regret of (our) season is that he did not appear before January” – he is certainly fresh and raring to go, and possesses a vision and range of passing that will enable us to better press opposition defences. Yet this still does not address our shortcomings upfront. Gervinho started the season brightly enough but his miss in mid-week when we were winning 2-0 is evidence of the predicament we face – we have simply failed to come close to replacing RVP. I would not be surprised to see a low scoring affair in this game – both teams keep possession well and can play pretty football (Arsenal have average 58.5% possession this season, higher than any other team whilst Swansea are at a respectable sixth spot with 55.6%) but neither are on scorching form in front of goal. Michu is talented but clearly not the same force as earlier in the season and whilst Swansea are more than capable of threatening from anywhere, I think our recent defensive display at Bayern will encourage a far more disciplined approach capable of containment.
I can forecast a narrow win for us on the weekend. Any win will do right now. I am still predicting a top four finish for us this season; especially considering the fixture pile ups at Tottenham and Chelsea.
Come on you Gooners!
Josh @ RL