Arsenal’s Pride Restored – Sort of!

Like most other Gooners, I was getting increasingly wound-up during the day yesterday (Wednesday) prior to Arsenal’s return leg Champions League match against Bayern Munich last night at the Allianz Arena with the various reports (or lack of them), and misinformation prior to the game…

Arsène Wenger and Arsenal in general tend to keep things close to their chest most of the time and only tell you what they want you to know. As such, and with information limited, most if not all of the tabloids had a go at deciding which team Wenger would put out. There was talk of Cazorla and Walcott being rested, Coquelin was going to play, as was Diaby, and the media went to great lengths to portray the impression that Wenger had conceded defeat before a ball had been kicked. That was the only impression that was being created and it was all so very negative. WRONG!

I wrote an article on 11th March giving my thoughts on the forthcoming game. Following which, I was ridiculed, told I was dreaming, and someone who I follow on twitter and is a die-hard Arsenal fan (who I follow back) and always has a sensible opinion, indeed he runs his own very good blog (worth a read…) was very polite when he tweeted me:- “Oh Jeremy @jeremylebor ever the optimist Early goals who knows heh??

Vermaelen arrives at Bayern Munich but was dropped from the team

Vermaelen was dropped to the bench

In an interview on Sky Sports News, Wenger was careful not to over play how good Bayern are as a team, falling short of saying or agreeing they are currently the best team in Europe and made it clear that Arsenal were capable of getting the desired result and certainly had not or would not concede defeat.

There were even reports of who Bayern said they fancied playing in the quarter finals, showing the level of confidence they had in beating Arsenal. Pundits across all areas of media and social networking, along with plenty of supporters suggested Arsenal would be ‘hammered’, particularly as it was announced that Jack Wilshere was injured and would be out for three to four weeks.

An hour or so before the game the team was announced, Vermaelen was left on the bench Wojciech Szczęsny was dropped in place of Łukasz Fabiański. Both Theo Walcott and Santi Cazorla were in the starting line-up and Kieran Gibbs was back for the first time in a long while having recovered from injury. Tomáš Rosický also started, which seemed to have an almost instant effect in my opinion. Carl Jenkinson was in for an injured Sagna too.

Olivier Giroud opens the scoring for Arsenal against Bayern Munich

Giroud pokes home Walcott’s low cross

So was it a master stroke by Wenger? – I would simply say (as I have said before) whether you are an “In Arsène we trust” or “Wenger out” supporter, it would be foolish to underestimate or right Wenger off… completely! – Whatever size shoes he chose to wear to kick the team firmly up the arse, he installed the missing belief that has eluded the team for a long while.

Dropping Szczesny was met with disdain by most if not all, but Fabianski, although he didn’t have a lot to do, was safe and secure in his goal (his kicking is still sh*t though!) – He did however make a very good save from Arjen (Muppet) Robben. Dropping Vermaelen may yet put a firework in his rear end, as he has been left wanting quite a lot this year and is certainly not the player he was last year or the year before, but that probably has a lot to do with missing Song in front of him. Szezney’s mind for whatever reason has not been right, and again, maybe it will make him realise he needs to perform at the highest level every game. I still think he is a better keeper than Fabianski, but at 22 he is still only young. However, so is Joe Hart and frankly there is no comparison!

An early goal was essential, and we were not disappointed. Three minutes in, a cross from the right from Walcott and (even) Giroud couldn’t miss. In fairness, Giroud was left wanting again for most of the match and needs to find his form again. He is not the same player in my opinion that started the season. He seems to play better when Podolski is on the left and they have a good understanding with each other, however, he did score.

Bayern were poor…

The crowd were silenced, the atmosphere was pants, and for the majority of the game the only voices to be heard were that of some 3,500 Arsenal fans that made the journey to Munich. There were Arsenal banners aloft. Yup, great supporters!

Arjen Robben is tackled by Arsenal's Koscielny

Robben took a lot of shots but most of them went into the stands

Yes, Bayern were without Franck Ribéry who was ruled out with an ankle injury, and both Bastian Schweinsteiger and Jérôme Boateng were banned for the game. Arjen Robben however did play, and although he is without doubt a decent player, he is a cheating diving muppet! – You only need to blow on him and he goes down like a sack of potatoes! – Frankly, in my opinion, Bayern relied heavily on Robben getting them free-kicks for the majority of the game. They were not a threat in any reasonable way and this is meant to be one of the best teams in Europe who have only conceded 10 goals at the Allianz Arena all season and never more than two in any game… Maybe it’s me, but perhaps it does show with the exception of two or three teams, the Bundesliga is not as competitive as the Premier League, La Liga or Serie A.

I still say it, on their night Arsenal CAN beat anyone. Wenger even mentioned it before the game when he said how we had played Barcelona three times in nine years and had beaten them, although I accept that was a different team we put out with players no longer at the club. Barcelona in my opinion is still the benchmark and Bayern don’t even come close… But they probably will in the forthcoming years with Pep Guardiola now installed as their new manager from next season.

We needed to get to half time without conceding and… we did!

45 Minutes and 2 goals needed…

Half time arrived and the usual pundits had their views. They couldn’t believe it, but fell short or saying it was anything other than luck. It always amazes me how Arsenal is constantly consigned to the knacker’s yard, and when they do put in a half-decent performance, it is always the other team who are poor! – Are you listening Sky Sports?

The second half started much as the first half finished. Arsenal were pressing, had control, and gave control to Bayern and vice versa. The referee was card happy and gave a poor (almost biased) performance in my opinion, showing that the quality of referring is far superior in the Premier League, but that did not deter Arsenal pressing for a second and third. Laurent Koscielny was in my opinion immense in defence and big Mert put in a decent shift too, as did both Gibbs and young Jenkinson.

Ramsey wasn’t that great in midfield. He is either brilliant, or as is more likely just average most of the time. He has not been the same player since that horrific injury he sustained, but hey… Wenger seems to have faith in him. I just think he is only an average squad player now at best and he hasn’t done anything to show me otherwise!

At 70 minutes, Wenger decided to shake it up a bit. Off came Walcott (who didn’t have the greatest of games) as did Ramsey. On came The Ox and Gervinho (Mr Forehead). I thought The Ox did well for the 20 or minutes he played and gave us what was missing from Ramsey… better ball control and concise passing!

Arsenal and Bayern players scuffle

Pretty much the only thing Neuer managed to stop all night was a quick restart

Arsenal continued to press for a second and third. Gervinho having done the hardest part of weaving in and around the box fluffed the finish, but I don’t particularly rate Gervinho. Champions League football against top European teams is a little different to Africa Cup of Nations in my opinion. Giroud again had a cast iron opportunity of getting the second. It didn’t happen for him either and he took too long to control his movement and the ball.

In the 85th minute we had a corner after a fair bit of pressure. There is a standing joke in my family that we never score from corners, so we all said “we never score from corners…” The corner came in and Koscielny was there right in the thick of it to head home. Handbags at ten paces ensued as Bayern tried to prevent Arsenal from retrieving the ball quickly to re-start. It was all about to go off and Bayern were really rattled!

Arsenal pushed but lost possession. Robben had it in the corner and held it there to prevent any meaningful play. With three added minutes, which should have been probably five, we just couldn’t get on it. Arteta clattered into players two or three times and gave away needless free-kicks, but they came to nothing for Bayern.

Robben has a little tumble. Again,

Robben falling over was a constant and frustrating sight for Arsenal fans

The final whistle came. 0-2 to the Arsenal, 3-3 on aggregate with three goals scored at the Emirates by Bayern being the decider on the away goal rule. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be, but Arsenal showed spirit and determination to silence (some) of their critics. Ultimately, the game was lost at the Emirates on 19th February 2013 and that third stupid goal they conceded that night was the deciding factor…

Whichever way you look at it, going out of the competition is not nice, but I feel Arsenal did restore some pride beating Bayern on their own turf by two goals. Hopefully, it will set them up for a decent run-in to the end of the season, but it is yet another year without a trophy!

Last Word…

I was listening to talkSPORT radio following the game and some idiot so-called Arsenal supporter called Richard phoned in to say he was glad Arsenal were out of the Champions League as he didn’t give them much hope of progressing any further than the last eight in any event. He also said Arsenal could concentrate on finishing fourth… WHAT?

I don’t see the logic there. What is the point of wanting to finish fourth, to qualify for the Champions League, the premier European competition, when you’re glad your team are no longer in that competition? Duh!!! – Without exception, I put it to any football fan… Who does NOT want to be in the Champions League? Every player does, so does every manager. Frankly, any fan following their club does only want to see their team play against the best teams in Europe… and if they don’t, well… I’m speechless!

Arsenal has qualified for the Champions League for 15 consecutive years. There are nine games to go to get a qualification spot. Will they do it for a 16th consecutive year?

Will Arsenal fans get to see their team grapple with Europe's best again next season?

Will Arsenal fans get to see their team grapple with Europe’s best again next season?

Tottenham Hotspur have some difficult games ahead of them as do Chelsea. Despite opinion, it is not a forgone conclusion that fourth spot is up for grabs only between Tottenham and Arsenal. Chelsea are in that mix too as are Liverpool to a lesser extent. Arsenal has a game in hand over Tottenham although they are seven points behind. Win the game in hand and it’s only four. With Europa League action for both Tottenham and Chelsea (assuming they both qualify for the next round after tonight’s games) the games will come thick and fast. Chelsea also have the added bonus (or negative) of a replay against Manchester United in the FA Cup. My point… It is not over yet and no matter what anyone may say; Arsenal’s performance last night showed that if the spirit and determination are right, there is no-one we cannot beat. Nine games is a maximum of 27 points. Putting my head on the line here, I believe Tottenham, Chelsea and Liverpool will all drop points before the end of the season and Arsenal are capable of getting at least 21 and will finish in fourth or even third place in the Premier League.

Yes, there is still Manchester United in that run in and Everton too (albeit it both are at home), but it would be a very foolish person to say that Arsenal cannot finish fourth or even third… WATCH!

Come on you Gooners!

Jeremy is an avid soccer fan and life long season ticket holding Arsenal ‘mad gooner’ supporter. Although his bias is towards Arsenal, he is big enough to comment on all teams both here in the UK and Europe… whether good or bad! - He regularly ‘tweets’ on all things Arsenal together with football issues and sport in general. He definitely loves a bit of banter too! - You can follow Jeremy on twitter: @jeremylebor
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