What on earth are you thinking? The decision to sack Andre Villas-Boas, was entirely unpalatable. There can be no justification for casting a man in the prime of his life, to the four winds. He was on course to meet our expectations for the season, that St Totteringham’s Day be brought forward by several months. Whilst you may have become accustomed to the outcome heading more towards an early summer solstice, it brings an inner warmth to us when taking place when the nights draw in early.
I am sure that the media will bring forward a raft of names for you to consider. Some will be curve balls but do not let them distract you, keep searching for that inner incompetence which you draw out of seemingly sane and rational men, with an enviable and consummate ease. Some, like Martin Jol, can read you like a book and has already made himself available at no cost to yourselves. Think of it like a free transfer available in the summer and act decisively on this. You did so in the summer, straight into the transfer market with no hesitation, a Master of the Universe. If you could apply the same rigour this time around as well as the lax criteria, it would be greatly appreciated. You know, find your managerial Soldado and ignore the Negredo who might suit you better.
Anyway, must shoot. Off to relish the meetings with Bayern Munich next February and March. You can restart the Pilates Classes after the meeting with Dnipro; I am sure Snr Ramos has a motivation or two for ending your Thursday night agonies.
It could have been easier but not a lot harder. On their way to becoming the media’s European lieblinge, Bayern stopped off at The Emirates and effectively ended the tie. Arsenal restored their pride and self-belief in Bavaria to return the favour; both sides will wince and smile at the memories of last seasons meeting at the same stage of the competition. Bayern will start once more as clear favourites to progress to the quarter-finals and beyond; it is the same scenario as Barcelona’s visits to The Emirates in their prime. Arsenal might be expected to issue a bloody nose in the first leg but nothing more than a gloriously heroic failure in the second.
There are differences between now and then. Bayern still dominate domestically but Arsenal drew mental strength to improve their lot immeasurably from that time. Then, the difference between the two sides was one away goal; the reality, how the matches played out, might have been different for the Germans were undeniably better. Arsenal’s squad for the second leg, whilst not makeshift, was certainly not the first choice XI; it was the squad, of course, but the changes he made for that match and the result achieved, gave Arsène the leverage he needed to shake some players out of complacency. It begs interesting questions: had Arsenal lost, would Wenger have continued with Lukasz Fabianski in goal? What of Vermaelen? But they didn’t and the rest, to borrow a cliché or two, is history.
The reaction of the Bayern hierarchy acknowledges that night and the improved domestic form; winning in Dortmund will not have gone unnoticed either. The words of Hoeness and Rumminegge echoed those of the likes of Dante and Lahm; Arsenal are perceived as “the toughest of the second-place teams” that FC Hollywood could have faced. It was reciprocated of course, with David Miles, the Arsenal Secretary, acknowledging that, “we paid the price for finishing second.”
It is this kind of tie that holds the appeal of the Champions League, I am sure it does for the players as well. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain spoke of his feelings about playing the likes of Barcelona and Munich. For me, the group stage is superfluous; the competition doesn’t need it. The matches are too often superfluous and let’s be honest, this is the first time in many years that Arsenal’s group has been genuinely interesting to watch and not a nervous grimace masking the build-up to the final fixture. This season also saw few surprises and as the money continues to flow in for the top seeds, there will be fewer and fewer top clubs missing out on the knockout rounds with more and more of the third tier opponents, such as Marseilles, gaining nul points.
The tie has placed itself into a tough run of fixtures. Or should it be made a tough run of fixtures, tougher. The home leg may be prefaced by a week’s rest if the FA Cup run ends in the Fourth Round but the game prior to that is Manchester United’s visit to The Emirates. Which follows the visit to Anfield. The second, is followed by the return fixtures against Tottenham, Chelsea, Manchester City and Everton. The Premier League and broadcasters have plenty of opportunity to influence the fitness regime at the club, something which the manager and staff will already be contemplating. Recovery times may well be a crucial factor in Arsenal’s performances. But that is a price Arsenal want to pay. If those matches are televised, it will mean that the club sits high in the Premier League – at the time of selecting the games anyway – and it is a sign of success.
For Arsène, it raises an intriguing question. Will it force him to act in January, to buy when he might not necessarily have been minded to do so. Olivier Giroud is working like a trojan for the side with no respite; maybe the return of Lukas Podolski will offer that but is it enough for the manager? Does he go to the transfer market and buy the class of striker he chased in the summer? Can he? With Brazil six months away, not many players at the top level will want to move and even fewer of their clubs will have the desire to sabotage their own season.
The bigger question, one which will be answered with the passing of time, is whether one match should dictate a change – if there is one – in policy?