Tuesday’s game is a big one.
And big Champions League nights are always great experiences, even when a poor result tarnishes the overall enjoyment.
I’ll be safely ensconced in my seat a good half hour prior to kick off against Bayern Munich this week, and along with the 55,000 Arsenal fans filling the ground I’ll get pumped up by the display Red Action are planning, albeit one the Bayern fans will presumably miss.
It’s always a fantastic feeling seeing everyone united behind one goal, a thrill which gives you goosebumps as the Champions League anthem blares out and the searchlights reflect off the placards or flags that are usually distributed.
However, this year it does bring with it a nagging suspicion that we may be reinforcing our own problems.
Are we unwittingly shooting ourselves in the foot?
To be clear, displays are a positive thing, and they have preceded a number of the best games I have experienced in person. Hopefully I made that clear in my opening few paragraphs.
However, if we assume that cost and effort of organising them makes them in feasible for every game, or indeed that they might lose some of their impact if they occurred before every night game, in my mind they are best utilised for one-off games of critical importance.
This week’s game against Bayern is certainly of that same critical importance to our Champions League survival, given that we now almost certainly have to win one of our two back-to-back ties with them to qualify, but it cannot really be described as a one-off game.
But why is that important?
So far this season we have played two European games and lost both, against frankly weaker opposition. I wasn’t in Zagreb admittedly, but at the Olympiacos game there was an overwhelming malaise about the team and the fans alike which made my blood boil to a previously unseen level.
Clearly, we all felt that the game against the Greek side was not as important as this week’s match which, if we want to win the group, is true, but otherwise is complete garbage.
Every group game is worth the same number of points: three.
Indeed if, like many, you believe we never really had a chance of topping the group in any event, then games against our pot three and pot four teams are actually more important in terms of head to head games denying your opposition points as well as adding to your own total. We could lose both Bayern games 10-0 and as long as we won the other four games we would almost certainly qualify just fine.
It’s a bit like choosing between winning the league but losing to Spurs, or coming top four but doing the double over them. I know which one I’d prioritise and I live with a Lilywhite.
For knock out games, I’m all about the fan displays, and don’t get me wrong, come 7.30pm I’ll be joining my fellow Emirates attendees in getting behind the team and the planned events, I just worry that by going all out for a group game – even one which is now of critical importance – that we are sending the wrong message to the players.
Then again, it shouldn’t take a fan display to get the players up for any Champions League game.
Let’s hope the one planned for Bayern earns us the win we so desperately need.