So. Bayern Munich are good, eh? Welp.
There are very few times in the life of an Arsenal fan where it’s appropriate to acknowledge that your team has been thoroughly outclassed. Think back to Lionel Messi scoring four against us in the Champions League in 2010, or Liverpool scoring four in 19 minutes against us last year.
Sometimes, there’s nothing else you can do but praise the opposition and move on.
Suffice to say, we must do that now.
Bayern outplayed us in so many ways that listing them would take up more time than the amount of time Arsenal spent in possession of the ball in Munich. It finished 5-1, and quite frankly, 5-1 flattered us. But, Bayern are a team whose second best striker is Thomas Muller, a player who any Arsenal fan would love to see us buy. 5-1 didn’t illustrate how bad Arsenal are, it just showed how good Bayern are.
Of course, after such a besmirching, it’s only natural that fans are starting to panic a bit.
Another defeat, another uphill battle to qualify out of a group, and most importantly, another addition to the injury list. Missing Hector Bellerin is bad enough, but losing Laurent Koscielny before the warm-up was a bitter pill to swallow. Plus, the next fixture on the calendar is a bit of a big game; Tottenham.
I don’t think any of us would have minded seeing Arsenal lose 10-1 if it had meant having everyone fit and available for Sunday’s game.
But, we don’t.
Alongside everyone else in an already crowded physio room, both Bellerin and Koscielny now have to pull a ticket, find an empty seat and wait for their turn to get treatment. And as Bayern’s squad depth overwhelmed us, (Arjen Robben and Arturo Vidal on the bench, FFS!!!), it was all too easy to look ahead at the prospect of this Arsenal line-up having to play on a regular basis and be very concerned.
Is Per Mertesacker out of form at the moment? Probably. Is Joel Campbell showing any signs of being a viable long-term option on the right wing. No. Is Mathieu Debuchy ever going to look like a competent right-back ever again? Who knows. Can we rely on any of those three to improve on Sunday? Per, maybe.
Those are just a few of the increasing list of problems this Arsenal team is running into at the moment, and there are no easy fixes. The most we can hope for is that any of the starting XI we have right now doesn’t fall into a bear trap, or walk over a rake, or hurt their back putting out the bin, or any other silly calamity like that.
Luckily though, there is respite around the corner. After the Tottenham game, we have an international break. That’ll give a few players a chance to rest up and ease a few aching limbs. Arsene Wenger may have been critical of the way Aaron Ramsey was utilised whilst playing for Wales, but blaming an international manager for playing one of your players too often is like drinking 20 pints of Guinness and then blaming your hangover on the one shot of tequila you had before going home.
After that, the fixture list is quite kind to us. Our next six games are West Brom away, Dinamo Zagreb at home, Norwich City away, Sunderland at home, Olympiakos away and Aston Villa at home. There isn’t a single game there where Arsenal won’t be favourites to win, even with a depleted squad. We might need to employ the handbrake a bit more than we’d necessarily like to, especially during the Premier League games, but all those games are eminently winnable.
This is why it’s too early to think about playing the kids in the Dinamo Zagreb game in an attempt to lose and make sure we don’t finish third in our Champions League group and avoid the dreaded Thursday-Sunday-Thursday-Sunday schedule that tends to wreck a season. Yes, such a scenario is one that could be disastrous, but it’s far from a formality for Olympiakos to qualify. After all, their next game is in Munich, where they’re bound to get a pasting. If they do manage to get a result, then we’re out anyway and Steve Bould might as well play in Athens, but if they don’t, then getting a two-goal win is more than do-able.
And for those who think that putting in effort to qualify for the knockout stages of a competition that we almost certainly won’t win is pointless, you’re wrong. Yes, there seems to be little logic in committing all our resources in the Champions League at the moment, but think of the precedent we’d be setting if we just tanked and gave up on it.
Remember how we wondered how pissed off Petr Cech must have been to have been ‘rested’ for the first two Champions League games? Now replicate that with the likes of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, players who expect to play on the biggest stage on a regular basis. You can’t tell them that you want to give up on one front to conserve energy for another, because they don’t want to give up on anything. Ever.
By playing the kids for the Zagreb game, all you’d be doing is telling the world that Arsenal aren’t able to compete for multiple trophies at once. And as much as that may be true, letting everyone know would only harm the morale of those you convinced to come here to try to win multiple trophies in the first place, and do just as much harm to the hopes of signing anyone good enough to improve our ability to compete on multiple fronts.
For now, all Arsenal can do is play their best XI and hope nobody else gets injured. Is it a good plan? Nope. But it’s by far the best plan they have.