I can remember Sunday 15th May 2016 as if it were yesterday. We needed to take a point at home to already-relegated Aston Villa to clinch third place and the neighbours needed a point at already-relegated Newcastle to become Premier League runners-up. I went through every single emotion that day. Football pulls me out of some dark places and that afternoon it most certainly did.
The drubbing we handed out that afternoon was only part of what caused so many people to depart the stadium smiling and laughing. The regular cheers that broke out as people following Tottenham’s humiliation on their mobiles brought immense happiness to all in the ground. “It’s happened again” indeed. The Champions League berth made secure. Most were so happy we would have the opportunity to play on the big stage again.
Ten months on and we’re going to get to see Bayern Munich in the flesh again and the spirits are once more at rock bottom. The atmosphere surrounding this match is far from ideal. Rumours of training ground bust-ups denied and yet we go into the match without Mesut Ozil, fit enough to train but still recovering from an illness all last week (whilst he was well enough to go tenpin bowling with some of his teammates). Arsene Wenger also avoided a question about Alexis starting by saying he would probably pick his team tomorrow morning.
I’m sure most admire the manager for defending his players on a public platform and respect his wish to keep disciplinary matters confidential. It is a shame that we have these distractions ahead of a match in which we will have to produce the greatest comeback in Champions League history to progress. Of course that is unlikely but we saw four years ago that Bayern can switch off in the second leg when we won 2-0, requiring a third goal to go through in Munich.
Frankly any margin of victory would lift a lot of the pressure off players and manager ahead of Saturday’s FA Cup quarter-final, but an early goal or two might just put doubts into Munich minds. Rose-tinted, you say? I plead guilty. It’s what supporters do, dream of the impossible. It’s why I’m going. Even though I don’t really expect it I couldn’t bear the thought of missing the miraculous should it somehow happen.
What will be the starting eleven, disciplinary measures aside? I have seen it suggested that Per Mertesacker might make his first appearance of the season. That would be a big call, but understandable. Without digging out individuals the back four has slipped from the standards it was setting earlier in the season and was pulled apart when Laurent Koscielny went off in Munich. If we really are going for it we may also see Keiran Gibbs recalled.
I wonder if, without Ozil, Arsene might take a leaf out of George Graham’s book and play three at the back and two wing backs? Hector Bellerin and Gibbs would suit that approach. Or will he stick with a conventional four and play three in midfield, perhaps Granit Xhaka, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Francis Coquelin? The attacking trio will depend on Danny Wellbeck’s state of readiness. Ideally he would start with Alexis and either Theo Walcott or Lucas. The latter must be hungry to show what he can do at the highest level, and hunger is a quality we have lacked lately.
The ‘holic pound
Simple really. We need only to throw everything, including the kitchen sink, at one of the best teams in Europe whilst not conceding to stand any chance of getting through. Fancy the miracle? You can get 110/1 against 4-0. That obviously won’t be the selection but I’m having a little bit of that for fun.
Arsenal to win in ninety minutes can be grabbed at a generous 5/2. The bookies are convinced Bayern will complete the double over the Gunners. I suspect they may be happy to sit and hold on to their advantage and we could nick a 1-0 under such circumstances. Both teams would be happy with that, I suspect. A modest punt on that won’t cover the cost of the evening, but it would add to the pleasure if it were to be successful.
Those who are going tomorrow will I’m sure get behind the team on another big European night. Whatever else is happening right now can be put to one side for ninety minutes, surely? Those who will be exercising their right to protest pre-match will, I am sure, take up their seats and roar the boys on once they have made their point peacefully, and with respect.
Have a good one, ‘holics.