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Arsene Wenger had clearly decided to shake things up for a very important fixture. The back five were as expected but ahead of them there were no starting places for Mesut Ozil (ill?), Alexis, or Theo Walcott. Ahead of Francis Coquelin and Granit Xhaka were Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alex Iwobi, Danny Welbeck, and Olivier Giroud. Arsene explained pre-match his reason for leaving out his leading goalscorer and provider,

“Decided to play with Giroud and Welbeck up front because we need to be a bit more direct maybe.”

Would we really go 4-4-2? The answer would be revealed after kick-off. Giroud was very much a lone striker as Liverpool dominated the early possession. The Ox started on the right and Danny on the left leaving Iwobi to be the playmaker in what looked a very familiar 4-2-3-1. A rapid counter attack in the fourth minute ended with Giroud being denied from a Bellerin cross at the expense of a corner.

Coquelin was fortunate to avoid a yellow card for a high boot that caught Coutinho a glancing blow. It was a genuine attempt to play the ball but dangerous nonetheless. That paled into insignificance three minutes later when the Arsenal themselves were caught on the break. Monreal was not at home and, with the freedom of the flank, Mane crossed over the exposed back three for Firmino to drill a deflected effort into the roof of the net.

Liverpool 1-0 Arsenal

With not much of a response forthcoming the first chants of “Alexis Sanchez baby” were heard coming from the away end in little over a quarter of an hour. We finally produced an attack when Oxlade-Chamberlain showed no little skill to create space for a far post cross that Mignolet tipped away from the head of Giroud. Encouraged Arsenal earned another couple of corners which failed to clear the first man.

The sight of Alexis warming up induced another rendition of his song. Watching Liverpool’s rearguard having time and space to play was a reminder that the always industrious Chilean was absent. Arsenal had Petr Cech to thank for a wonderful save from Coutinho’s thumping drive. Giroud, seemingly with a muscular problem, appeared to take an anti-inflammatory pill around the half hour mark.

Coutinho tumbled dramatically under challenge from Coquelin and Shkodran Mustafi. The referee, Bobby Madley, wasn’t fooled but Coquelin’s inevitable booking arrived when he tugged Lallana’s shirt right under the referee’s nose. Arsenal’s defence was opened up again in the fortieth minute when Mane found himself in acres of space on the right hand side of the box to smash a drive beyond Cech. The Gunners defensive naivety was painful to watch.

Liverpool 2-0 Arsenal 

Two could have been three when Coutinho killed a Lallana chip beautifully before firing straight at Cech. The half-time whistle couldn’t come soon enough for these brittle Gunners. Coutinho tried his luck again only to see his effort blocked for a corner. If we had been sent out to be more direct then Wenger’s team had clearly disobeyed instructions.

At the start of the second-half the immediate introduction of Alexis for Coquelin appeared a visible admission by the Arsenal manager that he had got his team selection wrong. The Ox dropped in alongside Xhaka and Alexis took up position on the left flank. He immediately brought a desperate save out of Mignolet with a teasing cross. When he repeated the move Giroud’s goal bound header was again parried by Mignolet.

At the other end Firmino’s clever turn set up a shot that Monreal did well to block and Cech gratefully gathered the ball. When Coutinho tumbled theatrically once more Liverpool had a free-kick in a dangerous position but the wall held firm and Cech saved the second ball in comfortably

Alexis and Danny Welbeck combined on the break and the latter got us back in the contest with a superb chipped finish from a tight angle. The Arsenal were a completely different side from the one that had stunk out the place in the opening half.

Liverpool 2-1 Arsenal

Mustafi did well to deal with Coutinho’s ball into the box when Mane put the Liverpool midfielder through. We reacted with a dangerous Hector Bellerin cross that Clyne managed to deflect out of the path  of the late arriving Alexis. Can’s pointless trip of Alexis was far worse than the one that earned Granit Xhaka a red card against Swansea. The yellow was probably the correct decision but again demonstrated the inconsistency between officials at the highest level.

The sight of Mustafi galloping clear down Arsenal’s right flank to cross in the direction of Giroud was uplifting to those around him and the travelling faithful. In the 74th Minute Wenger sent on Theo Walcott and the underused Lucas for Giroud and goalscorer Welbeck. That drew audible boos from the away end who launched into a chorus of the Danny Welbeck song.

Cech had to be alert to the danger when Matip got his head on a free-kick. The goalkeeper had to go full stretch to save to his right. When Can, already booked, scythed down Walcott the referee bottled the obvious second yellow, and added insult to injury by booking Xhaka, a marked man it would appear, for protesting his lack of action. Bobby Madley was not the only referee today to bottle the clear red card award.

With little more than eight minutes left Origi’s glancing header struck Cech’s far post and was scrambled to safety. Could we make the most of the let off? Lallana got back to put Lucas off as the substitute got into a dangerous position at the near post.

We have a habit of conceding late goals at Anfield in recent years and it happened again when Matip blocked a goal bound Alexis strike and Lallans and Origi combined to set up a simple tap-in for Wijnaldum. It was cruel on the Arsenal for their second-half performance but we cannot ignore that Liverpool were more clinical throughout.

Liverpool 3-1 Arsenal

There will be much discussion of the decision to start Alexis on the bench, but if we are totally honest this team has had dreadful first-half performances a lot of late, even with Alexis starting. Arsene Wenger will face growing calls for his head in the coming days, and now has to try and put out a team against Bayern Munich that will play for the badge on the shirt, if not him. He was defiant during the week but looked more than just disappointed after the match.

“We had problems to get in the rhythm of the first-half… We conceded some cheap goals… There’s possibility to be in it (the top four) as well so let’s focus on that”

Can he yet go out under better circumstances than this. Let’s hope so.

Twelve days after ending Sutton United’s FA Cup dreams we are finally back in action again in the north-west on a Saturday live on television. What could possibly go wrong? Well if that sounds nervous it isn’t meant to. Would you believe it if I told you on our last nine Premier League visits to Anfield we have lost just one? You should, even though that one was the still fresh in the memory 5-1 mauling three years ago.

Both sides will be understandably nervous ahead of what is a very important match in the hunt for a top four, or preferably top three finish. We may not be in a rich vein of form but the hosts have endured a dismal 2017 so far, winning just one league match this year. They will be without skipper Jordan Henderson which some might argue would strengthen them! They are also missing Daniel Sturridge with a hip strain.

We on the other hand can call on a relatively fresh squad minus just Santi Cazorla and Mohamed Elneny. There will be concern however about the form and health of Mesut Ozil. We will see the real deal again but if there are any doubts about his condition on Saturday it might be better for us to bite the bullet and change things around.

Petr Cech will probably get the nod to start in goal but the fact that even he is no longer an automatic selection is a testament to our recent form. If Laurent Koscielny is one hundred percent then he should return alongside Skhodran Mustafi and Hector Bellerin. The boss faces an intriguing pick at left-back to oppose the dangerous Mane. Neither Nacho Monreal nor Keiran Gibbs have been at their best defensively this season.

Whilst the feeling persists that Ozil will start in front of, probably, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Granit Xhaka, the alternative of a midfield three with Aaron Ramsey perhaps coming in for the misfiring German has some appeal. It may be more of a surprise than a nervous Liverpool could cope with. Let’s get on the front foot and master our own destiny.

Theo Walcott may hold off the challenge of Lucas of whom Arsene Wenger appears to be unsure, despite his goals when called upon. Alexis Sanchez will be asked to press high again and make a nuisance of himself. The fact that Danny Welbeck missed a third consecutive U-23 start on Friday means, I hope, that he is being considered for a start ahead of Alex Iwobi on the left. He would also provide more cover for whoever will be at left-back.

Arsene hinted at the possible change of plan ahead of the contest, frankly admitting,

“Our recent history has not been so positive in big games away from home, but I am convinced we have the quality and maybe we have to adapt the style a little bit as well. It’s important that we have a positive result in a big game like this.”

The ‘holic pound

Those who have already watched or listened to this week’s A Bergkamp Wonderland live podcast (embedded below so you can’t miss it!) will have heard me tip a come from behind 1-2 to the Arsenal. Paddy Power offer a market best 12/1 against that, which appears a generous price, but remember only Swansea have spirited all three points away from Anfield this season. Even while out of form the scousers remain difficult to beat in front of their home support.

As ever the away section is sold out despite the late kick-off. Let’s hope we can kick-start a big week with a return to something resembling good form to provide a lift for the two very different home tests that follow in the Champions League and the FA Cup. A huge week is looming for Arsene Wenger.

Have a great one, ‘holics.

As if we needed reminding that the television companies give not a damn for travelling supporters, the latest batch of fixture changes will have come as affirmation of that fact.

Arsenal v Manchester City being switched to a Sunday at 4pm is understandable, I suppose. It is one of the bigger fixtures of the season. At least City fans will be able to get back to Manchester by train after the match. A knock on from this is Arsenal putting their home fixture with West Ham United back 24 hours from the following Tuesday to Wednesday.

The trip to Crystal Palace is now the first of consecutive Monday night fixtures for the Gunners on April 10th. Hopefully most will be able to make South London and back on the night, although I do know some who won’t. Sky stored up a real beauty for the following week.

On Easter Monday we now travel to Middlesbrough, yes Middlesbrough, for an 8pm kick-off. That makes train travel much more expensive and will involve a stopover for those who won’t make the tortuous journey by road. Why on earth could they not bring the kick-off forward to give the travelling faithful an opportunity to get home by rail? Thoughtless in the extreme by Sky there.

They couldn’t have done anything to compare with that, could they? How about move the last north London derby at the current incarnation of the swamp back to 4.30 on a Bank Holiday Sunday. I cannot believe the police didn’t veto that. Sky know full well what the atmosphere will be like once the two tribes have been on the lash for four hours before the renewal of acquaintances. I suspect they will have as many cameras outside the ground as in. Irresponsible doesn’t begin to cover it.

And yet we know the counter arguments. Television is paying absurd sums of money for the privilege to show matches and they will manipulate the fixtures for their benefit. That wouldn’t hurt quite so much if supporters were getting something in return. Instead the clubs trouser the cash and use it to further fuel transfer and salary inflation. The supporters are well and truly screwed with nobody to protect their interests.

What a week. It has brought out the Meldrew in me. I’ll try and cheer up in time for the Liverpool preview, and thanks for letting me rant on.

I have a very old drum here that I simply have to bang again having watched the EFL Cup Final being decided by officiating errors rather than the excellent football that was played. Southampton will long feel hard done by, and football supporters everywhere will understand their feelings of disappointment tonight. It will live with them a long time.

Actually Matt Le Tissier was quite right when he said the the match could have followed a very different path had the Saints opening ‘goal’ been allowed, as indeed it should. It might also have seen United win a less emotional contest from behind. Yet the feeling that Southampton were robbed also lingers in the air, and for how much longer can we not take some sort of action to improve the standard of officiating?

Few could argue that the officials are under more scrutiny than ever and have a very tough job to do with many split-second decisions to make over the course of every game. The majority they still get right, but there is a feeling that the majority is shrinking as ever more high-profile mistakes are seen, and inconsistencies are evident.

The same old arguments for and against technological assistance raged on social media during and in the wake of the match. Football however has to follow the lead of cricket and rugby in helping the officials to get more decisions right. Slowly but surely it is being dragged kicking and screaming to that inevitable conclusion. We have made a start with goal line technology which has been a welcome introduction.

Next season the German Bundesliga will become the first major league competition approved to use video assistant referees. The VAR experiment is still in an experimental phase under the supervision of the law-making International Football Association Board and it will be interesting to see exactly how it will work and what it will cover. Nobody wants repeated lengthy delays to disrupt the flow of the game, but rugby has somehow got that right, and wiring up the referees would also help greater understanding of the job facing the man in the middle.

If the VAR experiment throws up valid reasons for a wider introduction to be halted then at least we can say the game tried to help raise standards and get back to the drawing board. I can’t help but feel though that done correctly this will be a justification for a revolutionary change to the game. It has to be something that is used only on matters of fact, and then there is the question of whether or not clubs will be allowed a number of ‘challenges’ as in cricket.

I’m not sure about the latter. It could be used by clubs to waste time, and this system is supposed to be about helping the officials, not making their life potentially harder. Rugby seems to have got things pretty much right, and the ability to listen in to the discussion between referee and video referee is informative too.

I know there are people out there dead against any change, but the game is becoming too big for officials, nowhere near as quick as those they are meant to be controlling, from having every modern assistance available to get more decisions right.

Rant over, for now. I have a feeling it will resurface again very soon.

Southampton’s journey to the EFL Cup Final has robbed us of a weekend fixture so the internet is rife with speculation rather than much hard news. Injuries continue to be the most tangible snippets out there. Reports that Santi Cazorla is out for the remainder of the season will surprise few, but it is desperately sad news for the Gunners who it’s fair to say have missed him a lot since he went in the fetlock back in October. Let’s  hope he can recover fully and return to complete a full season 2017/18.

Out for three weeks is Mohamed Elneny just as it looked as though he might be making a regular starting spot his own. The timing could not be worse for him with Aaron Ramsey thought to be on the cusp of returning to training. Laurent Koscielny is also expected to be back in full training prior to the visit to Anfield on Saturday week.

The midfield has been seriously misfiring in recent weeks and it will be interesting to see if we can repair the area of the team that is so crucial to the football that Arsene Wenger wants to play. Numerous combinations have been tried and it may well be that we are about to see a fairly settled spell of Ramsey and Granit Xhaka, if they can avoid the twin threats of further injury and suspension.

I prefer to steer clear of speculation but there have been more reports following the Mundo Deportivo revelation yesterday that Hector Bellerin remains Barcelona’s number one defensive target in the summer. The article suggested that Barca hope Hector may agitate for a move away from the club should Arsene Wenger leave at the end of the season. I’m sceptical as he signed a new long-term deal, reported to be over six years, in October. He has also said repeatedly he is happy at Arsenal. I’m keeping my glass half full on this one.

Finally Arsenal.com carried an interview with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain today talking about the importance of the supporters getting behind the team. He also shows appreciation of the fact that the team having to lift themselves as well.

“People have been doubting us and it’s important that we pick ourselves up to try to turn the tide into a more positive one. Our fans are great home and away. They’re very loud so we hear them when they’re happy and we hear them when they’re frustrated, but that’s part and parcel of being at a massive club like Arsenal.”

Every day it seems that one player or another is making all the right noises, and hopefully for the remainder of the season we can produce a run of improved form and results that will deliver a greater unity around the club.

Arsene Wenger’s mix and match selection was a good mix of youth and experience, it appeared, ahead of the match at Gander Green Lane. In front of David Ospina a back four of Gabriel, Skhodran Mustafi, Rob Holding, and Nacho Monreal, were backed up on the bench by Mathieu Debuchy, Per Mertesacker, and Kieran Gibbs. Mohamed Elneny and Granit Xhaka were in behind a creative trio of Theo Walcott, Jeff Reine-Adelaide, and Alex Iwobi. Just for good measure Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ainsley Maitland-Niles were substitutes along with Alexis, displaced by Lucas in the first eleven.

Both sides started cautiously and the first moment of ‘excitement’ was created by a pitch invader eleven minutes in. Why, when you are one of the holders of the 5000 hottest tickets in town, would you ensure your ejection and the waste of a space in the ground? A quarter of an hour passed before Elneny launched a conversion attempt far over the crossbar. There followed a shocking dive by former Gunner Craig Eastmond. Disappointing but not surprising to see that. Michael Oliver was not fooled.

Roarie Deacon, another former Gunner, enjoyed the opening quarter of the match and caused both Arsenal full-backs some nervous moments. As the clock ticked over 23 minutes Xhaka was awarded a yellow card for his first foul of the contest when he held Eastmond back. He does appear to be a marked man by the PGMOL officials. Arsenal grabbed the lead when Xhaka sent Lucas scurrying down the right flank. He cut in and sent a cross towards Walcott, who completely missed his attempted backheel, and the ball curled inside the far post.

Sutton United 0-1 Arsenal

A scramble ensued when Monreal was denied by the goalkeeper but Iwobi was unable to tee up anyone in the chaos that followed the ball not going out of play. Moments later Walcott did connect with a drive from outside the box that missed the target by some distance and nestled in the back of the home end. Collins challenge on Iwobi was ‘interesting’ in the light of the Xhaka booking. The non-award of a free-kick raised eyebrows. Man and ball was a great challenge many moons ago, but today? Of course Alan Shearer laughed it off and mocked Martin Keown for considering it a foul.

Just over five minutes before the break Reine-Adelaide found himself the covering right-back and was forced to take a yellow card for the team when Deacon threatened to break clear. The resulting free-kick was rapidly taken to the other end by Walcott, and Iwobi’s effort was deflected just past the post. Sutton were all but gifted a response when Ospina’s careless clearance presented May with a free shot which he sliced into the rough wide of the near post.

Elneny, who looked to have picked up a calf problem in the first-half, did not reappear after the break and Oxlade-Chamberlain was introduced. The National League side started the half enthusiastically pressing across the pitch but the Gunners did quickly adjust to the increased pace of the game. With both sides careless in possession Sutton coach Ian Baird, once of Southampton, screamed “for flips sake get ‘old of the flipping ball”, or words to that effect. The beauty of a small venue!

Gomis created panic in the Arsenal box and the Gunners had Oxlade-Chamberlain to thank for bringing the ball out of danger. The feeling that we needed the cushion of a second goal was growing. It came courtesy of a wonderfully intricate exchange around the box and ended with Walcott sweeping Monreal’s cross in at the far post with his left foot.

Sutton United 0-2 Arsenal

Chances were traded but both goalkeepers were able to deny first Biamou for Sutton, then Lucas for the Arsenal. Monreal had to be at his best to head a dangerous looking Deacon cross away for a corner which Collins head narrowly over. Sutton, and their supporters, were lifted by the moment. Just short of 65 minutes Deacon’s 25 yard pile-driver crashed back into play off the crossbar. Bigger clubs are sniffing around him, and you can see why.

Oxlade-Chamberlain’s scintillating break over half of the pitch came to nought when he failed to pick out the three unmarked Gunners in the box. Spence responded with a cross that brought an excellent punch clear from Ospina. This tie was still very much alive with twenty minutes to play. Sutton sent Hudson-Odoi on for the luckless May. The Gunners went for the double substitution of Alexis and Maitland-Niles for Reine-Adelaide and Iwobi.

Holding had to be alert to clear when Oxlade-Chamberlain had his pocket picked by Gomis. Some of the Sutton lads may have started to tire at this point but Gomis was not one of them. The Ox attempted to make amends but Worner managed to parry his goal bound effort.

Collins took a kick at the stricken Alexis then pushed him over as he attempted to get up. I wonder what Xhaka thought of him getting away with a quick word of warning by the inconsistent Oliver. The fact that he is the finest the PGMOL have at the moment is telling.

As the clock ticked down Xhaka’s long range effort was deflected to Oxlade-Chamberlain, sadly off target with his snapshot. Martin Keown, perhaps unsurprisingly, praised Arsenal’s approach to a potential banana skin. We should also pay tribute to Sutton who were far from disgraced on the evening. Their passage to the fifth round was a thrilling ride for them and their supporters, and the two Football League scalps they claimed along the way will not be forgotten for a long time.

All in all, a very satisfying evening. Bring on Lincoln.

At last there is some real football to distract us from the general air of gloom surrounding the club at the moment. An incedible Saturday in the FA Cup saw a non-league team advance away against a Premier League club and a League One club defeat the champions. While Sunday’s fixtures went as existed the draw gave us more reason to cheer. Only non-leaguers Sutton United and Lincoln City stand between us and an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley.

Just who will start at Sutton became marginally clearer on Sunday as Danny Welbeck played for seventy minutes in the under-23 fixture at Leicester. The England striker confirmed on his Twitter account that the “plastic pitch at Sutton isn’t the best idea at the moment“. Clearly he has ongoing issues with that knee. Jeff Reine-Adelaide and Ainsley Maitland-Niles were not involved at Leicester so probably will be at Gander Green Lane.

So, using the eleven that started at Southampton in the last round as a basis from which to work it is possible that Per Mertesacker and Nacho Monreal might come in for Shkodran Mustafi and Kieran Gibbs in front of David Ospina, and alongside Hector Bellerin, and Rob Holding.

Mohamed Elneny could come in for one of the young double-barrelled midfielders and alongside Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in a midfield three. If Lucas has not regained fitness we could be stretched up front. Olivier Giroud should get a start alongside Theo Walcott and Alex Iwobi?

Sutton will obviously be up for the game, in particular the former Gunners Craig Eastmond, Roarie Deacon, Jeffrey Monakana and Jack Jebb. Eastmond was once considered to be ahead of Francis Coquelin for a future midfield berth with the Gunners, and made ten appearances in two seasons including a Champions League appearance in Donetsk. Talking to Jim White in the Telegraph Craig was warm in his praise of the boss who let him go, whilst upbeat about his new team’s chances of causing what would surely be the biggest FA Cup upset of all time.

“To be fair, we never think we haven’t got a chance, that’s one of our strengths. Sure, if Leeds had played their full-strength side we might have thought different. But once we saw their teamsheet, we knew we could do it.”

“I’ve not seen Arsène Wenger in the flesh since I left the club. I see him on TV all the time obviously. Be great to catch up. I know he’s taken a lot of stick recently, but for me there’s no question, he’s a great manager. And a great man.”

Much has been said about the nature of the artificial surface but in all honesty Arsenal effectively play on firm, enhanced surfaces every week. The bounce may be marginally different and the first burn will persuade most to try to stay on their feet more than usual, but if we are playing a possession game based on short sharp passes then we should be able to make our technical superiority pay.

The ‘holic pound

If you listened to the Bergkamp Wonderland podcast this week you will know I am not expecting an avalanche of goals. The standard of the National League isn’t so very far removed from that of Leagues One and Two so I expect the hosts to get bodies behind the ball and make it difficult for us. The lively Deacon and the experienced Tubbs will hope to convert any rare opportunities that come their way on the break.

I plumped for 0-3 to the Arsenal but don’t be surprised if at least a couple of those don’t come until the non-leaguers tire in the latter stages. Unfortunately for me the bookies think that is the likeliest outcome too. Paddy Power offer a market best of 13/2 against that and I have grabbed a piece of that while it lasts. Expect it to drop to 11/2 or even 5/1.

To the lucky 750 plus any of ours who have tickets from Sutton I wish you a fabulous evening of old style football watching. To the rest who hopefully won’t need to be behind the sofa let’s just hope we get an exciting, but eventually not too pulse-racing passage into a quarter-final against another National League opponent.

We all know the rest of the football world will be rooting for the underdog, as indeed we were when Sutton beat Leeds to reach the last sixteen. Should the unexpected happen I hope the vast majority of us will react with some class and grace.

Have a good one, ‘holics.

The car was in for an annual service and MOT today, so I got to have a holiday and catch the Arsene Wenger press conference live. I’m not quite sure what people were expecting to hear, or rather I probably do, but it was never going to be more than a demonstration of him putting on a brave face and trying to get people to focus on future games, not recent horror stories.

He confirmed that he had said this week that he would make a decision about his future in March or April. Whether he will share that with the wider public then or at the end of the season remains unclear. A friend who knows him far better than I ever will thinks it will be the latter as Arsene would never want it to be about him, and I understand that. Arsene remains totally committed to the club and his beliefs about how the game should be played.

There are those who wish that he was a little less principled in this instance and give the supporters an opportunity to reunite and show their appreciation for the amazing things he has achieved at our club in a stay that will stretch to nigh on 21 years. Perhaps he gave us a hint with his insistence that he would be managing somewhere next season, even if it were not at Arsenal.

There followed on social media the demonstration that the divide is still very much in evidence, but changing somewhat. The belligerence of those who would want him gone is still stark and saddening. However there is a softening on the other side as a number of those who remained staunchly loyal have come to accept that now the time probably has arrived for the ultimate change to be made.

As one of those who have turned through 180 degrees I have to say I have done so with a very heavy heart. There is still that tiny forlorn hope that the players who have let Arsene down so badly finally realise their potential in the final three months of the season. Thirteen consecutive Premier League victories would take us very close but it is difficult to imagine this group rediscovering form and confidence for more than a handful of games before weakly submitting again.

More realistic would be a third FA Cup triumph in four years. Four more wins would deliver that and it is incredible to think that some would deny him even that. Those who do should take a long hard look at themselves. If you want Arsenal not to win trophies because you want the manager to go then you are not what most people would consider to be an Arsenal supporter.

Even if we do end the season in style however it would be better for it to be a glowing celebration of Arsene’s tenure. What he achieved in his first decade will always mark him out as this club’s greatest ever manager, and that he managed the transition from Highbury until the renegotiations of the major sponsorships in 2013 will also stand the test of time. He has had the chance to spend the club’s new wealth but we appear to be no nearer to seriously challenging for the major prizes than we were then.

We’re not entitled to win anything, but the club made that momentous move to ensure we could continue to compete at the highest level. We haven’t made that step up though. When Ivan Gazidis said we would compete with the likes of Bayern Munich he must have prayed we would not be humiliated by them in consecutive seasons this far down the line. It’s time for fresh ideas in the boardroom. It’s time to say thank you and good luck to the amazing man who brought us to this point.

It’s time to write the next chapter, painful as that may be.

The announcement of the starting eleven meant Bayern, and most Arsenal supporters, were still facing the possibility of a 4-3-3 formation as well as the normal 4-2-3-1. As the match kicked off it looked very much a case of the latter, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right flank and Alex Iwobi on the left.

Bayern’s starting line-up looked to be proof of the absurdity of the claims that they are not what they were. Neuer, Lahm, Hummels, Martinez, Alaba, Alonso, Vidal, Robben, Thiago, Costa, Lewandowski. Powerful.

The opening phases were interesting with Arsenal pressing high and Bayern springing direct and pacy counter attacks. Bayern were first to settle into their plan of controlled possession and forced the Gunners onto the back foot. Vidal produced the first effort on target after less than ten minutes but David Ospina saved comfortably.

In under twelve minutes we were behind. Francis Coquelin, the only person in the stadium who didn’t know you have to keep Robben away from his left foot, allowed him to do exactly that, astonishingly going the wrong way to allow the Dutch winger the opportunity to drive the ball into the top far corner. It was a fabulous strike. Three minutes later he tried his luck again but Ospina dived to grab the ball.

Bayern Munich 1-0 Arsenal

Skhodran Mustafi took a chunk of Thiago from behind and picked up an early yellow card for the visitors. The early pressing was left by the wayside as the Arsenal retreated into something of a back ten leaving Alexis looking a forlorn and frustrated lone raider. On our left flank Kieran Gibbs and Iwobi were being schooled by Robben and Lahm. The recalled Granit Xhaka was forced to be a third covering defender on that flank.

Coquelin sent Alexis scurrying away midway through the half but Martinez very easily dispossessed the solo attacker. When he made a second break a couple of minutes later he drew a foul from Hummels on the edge of the box. Hummels was shown the yellow card for the challenge. A chance for us to strike? Ozil’s free-kick was spilled by Neuer but ricocheted away to safety.

Temporarily lifted, we took up the pressing game again and were rewarded with a penalty kick when Lewandowski brought down the fast-reacting Koscielny in the box from a corner. Alexis’ spot-kick was poor, Neuer saved, but the Chilean produced a wonderful finish on the turn at the second attempt. Astonishingly, we were level.

Bayern Munich 1-1 Arsenal

The goalscorer was booked minutes later when Martinez threw himself spectacularly to ground under minimal, if any, contact. Bayern screamed at the referee when Bellerin’s arm, in a natural position, was hit from point blank range. From the resulting corner Lewandowski headed over the crossbar.

At the other end Xhaka ventured forward for a well-struck left foot volley that Neuer managed to hold onto. This was far from the passive Arsenal in the wake of the opening goal, but Bayern attempted to hit back with another high header by Lewandowski from Alaba’s cross. Hummels too missed the target with a header from a set piece conceded by Xhaka.

The last chance of the half fell to Mesut Ozil from a tight angle on the left hand side and Neuer was equal to it. A very good first-half was drawing to a close and the Arsenal could be well pleased with their response to going behind.

We started the second-half on the front foot but suffered a real blow when skipper Koscielny hobbled off with a hamstring problem to be replaced by Gabriel. The substitute’s first challenge was a vital one on Lewandowski. However the latter climbed all over Mustafi to power home a header from Lahm’s cross and Bayern were again ahead with over half an hour still to play.

Bayern Munich 2-1 Arsenal

A couple of minutes later the Arsenal defence was peeled open once more when Lewandowski back-heeled into the path of the untracked Thiago who slid the ball inside the far post. Memories of last season’s 5-1 mauling here were being resurrected.

Bayern Munich 3-1 Arsenal

Xhaka received a yellow card for a bad challenge on Alonso, who needed no encouragement to lie down at every opportunity. Gibbs survived another call for a penalty when he appeared to move his arm towards the ball to deny Robben. From the corner that followed Ospina produced a wonderful save to deny Martinez. The reprieve was temporary. Thiago’s deflected strike put us in all kinds of bother. The loss of the skipper had left us so badly exposed at the back.

Bayern Munich 4-1 Arsenal

Arsene decided the answer was to send on Theo Walcott for the unfortunate Iwobi, out of his depth on the night. Hopefully he will learn much from the experience. Arsenal’s defenders long balls upfield were coming straight back with no Olivier Giroud to hold the ball up. Walcott’s introduction ahead of the target man was mystifying. Ospina produced another fine save as Bayern powered through and around us at will.

Mustafi and Lewandowski came together, not for the first time, and the Arsenal man was less than impressed with the striker’s apparent inner ear infection. With fourteen minutes to go we finally introduced Giroud and hauled off Coquelin. Lewandowski appeared to catch Ospina as the latter made a brave save at his feet and Gabriel was quick to seek retribution. It was good to see a reaction. Gabriel and Lewandowski met shoulder to shoulder in the next attack and the latter again plunged unnecessarily and theatrically.

Lahm, outstanding on the night enjoyed the freedom of the right flank once more but from his cross Robben thankfully fired his right footer high and wide. Before he was substituted Costa brought yet another wonderful save from Ospina throwing himself full length at his far post. Lahm’s late booking for bringing down Oxlade-Chamberlain will rule him out of the second leg, but he had already ensured his team a comfortable cushion to travel with.

Walcott earned us a corner with six minutes to go but we were unable to convert it into a much needed second away goal. Lewandowski was withdrawn and managed to make it all the way to the line without falling over again. In truth he was being very professional and using up time that Arsenal badly needed to make better use of. Robben, bettered only by Lahm on the night was also taken off to a rapturous standing ovation.

Newly introduced Muller gave the scoreline a horribly familiar ring when he danced inside Oxlade-Chamberlain to slide home the fifth.

Bayern Munich 5-1 Arsenal

Arsenal’s second-half capitulation was so worrying. If we can’t lift ourselves in a Champions League knock-out tie then when can we? This tie may just have been the final crack at the Champions League for Arsene, and the result may confirm that. Perhaps it’s time to take a step back and consider that when things have calmed down.

It’s February, so we are playing either Bayern Munich or Barcelona, right? Let me just check the fixture list, ah, It’s Bayern again. But we’re away in the first leg, so that means we have done pretty well in the group stage this season. Had we not pinched the top spot we would have been hosting Barca tonight, but instead PSG have that little test to face. Advantage the Arsenal, yes?

Arsene Wenger has already confirmed that David Ospina will be in goal in the Allianz Arena. The Champions League and cup tie goalkeeper has a real opportunity to stake a claim to more regular action in a huge match. The news is not so good for Lucas who has been ruled out with a hamstring injury. I hope his luck turns for the better soon.

Ahead of Ospina the boss has to decide between Nacho Monreal or Kieran Gibbs for what could be one of the key positions of the match. If both were showing consistently good form I would plump for Nacho, but I will understand if Arsene opts to start the latter for the second match running. Hector Bellerin, Shkodran Mustafi, and Laurent Koscielny are surely given starters?

As is Mesut Ozil, despite the Chinese whispers of his impending benching. A fascinating choice awaits for the pair behind him in midfield, assuming Arsene sticks with his 4-2-3-1. The switch to 4-3-3 worked at Southampton and in the opening phase at Stamford Bridge, but it was ditched after Chelsea took the lead and Arsene is unlikely to put his complete trust in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to be the middle man in that formation in a match of this magnitude.

That’s not to say the Ox won’t start on Wednesday night. In fact he is highly likely to, such has been his form in recent weeks. At last we have the luxury of options to partner him with Granit Xhaka back to challenge Mohamed Elneny after his suspension. Xhaka and the Ox could form a powerful base from which to spring attacks, but can Granit resist his inclination to the impetuous? Elneny may keep his place, just.

Mesut is not the only Gunner under a bit of a cloud at the moment and for that reason I would be sorely tempted to start Danny Welbeck and Alex Iwobi either side of Alexis rather than start with Theo Walcott. I hope Theo is just suffering a bit of ‘new Dad tiredness’ and will be back to the form he showed in the first half of the season soon. He really needs to show he is still driven to contribute more to this side. In reality I suspect the boss will persist with him. Good luck to him if so.

What of Bayern, I hear you ask. Now whilst I am watching a lot more European football in recent weeks none of it has been from the Bundesliga, so I am reliant upon the opinions of others. I have read in many places that they are not the Bayern of recent seasons, but when I look at the League table I see they have lost just one match and are seven points clear at the top of the table. They have scored 45 goals in 20 league matches. That’s deterioration? Blimey.

Champions League then, perhaps more relevant? A defeat to Atletico in Madrid, just the 1-0. A 3-2 loss in Rostov is eye-catching. It’s why they finished second in group B as they avenged their defeat by Atletico on match day six. So basically one embarrassing reverse all season. They still look the hardest of nuts to crack to this observer.

The ‘holic pound

Last season we beat them 2-0 at home in one of the best performances we have produced in recent seasons. It counted for nought as they monstered us in the return, but there is a blueprint for how to contain, frustrate, and punish them. I’m not expecting us to repeat that margin of victory, but if we are to succeed then a return to our European heritage, and one-nil to the Arsenal has some appeal at a staggering 22/1 with Paddy Power. If a topical anytime goalscorer punt is of interest then Mesut Ozil and Shkodran Mustafi look a little skinny at bests of 9/2 and 12/1 respectively. I’ll pass at those prices, thank you.

A fair few friends are enjoying the hospitality in Munich as I type. The Arsenal allocation, as ever, is sold out. I hope they get a performance from a team that is certainly due a good one. At home I may grab some Bavarian beer for a stereotypical night in front of the screen with my full leder… no, I’ll spare you that image. It’s made me feel a bit queasy, if I’m honest!

Have a (hopefully) great one, ‘holics.

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