Arsenal prepare for tomorrow’s match in Munich with injuries dominating the pre-match build-up. Jack Wilshere is struggling to be fit and in all likelihood will be joining Lukas Podolski and Bacary Sagna in missing the flight to Bavaria. Of course the latter duo might not be injured, their absences being part of The Wenger Code of not playing when transfer speculation abounds, the German reportedly a target of Juve and Atletico Madrid. The only thing missing from this morning’s papers are the broken cannons; a club in crisis. Maybe that is to follow when the international break arrives on Sunday.
Bayern have their own problems with Schweinsteiger, Ribery and Boateng all missing through either injury or suspension. Arsenal have a tough task and whilst it is easy to see why parallels are being made with last season, these second legs could hardly be more different with the need for at least three goals too big a stride for the squad to make. The chance for heroic failure exists; an early goal will change perspectives but keeping a clean sheet is the real necessity and I am unconvinced Arsenal’s defence will be able to achieve that. Olivier Giroud summed it up with his observation that Arsenal “need to score an early goal but we need to correct our bad defensive behaviour.”
It is an honest assessment which was echoed by Mikel Arteta,
We want to win silverware a lot. That’s why the FA Cup exit was crazy. It was hard to get that out of my head. The way we threw it away, it was unbelievable. Then you see the draw. We just had to win that game and it was a straight line to the final. I shouldn’t be sitting here having not played in an FA Cup quarter-final last weekend. It’s frustrating. To throw it away like that is unacceptable.
Our performances can be good for 89 minutes, then we make a stupid mistake and we’ve lost. Most of the games you can’t criticise the performance or the attitude but we have moments that cost us the game. You can’t keep saying we played well but lost. It’s not good enough
The Spaniard reflects the thoughts of a lot of the supporters, it is a good squad but lacking something. In those words, the suggestion is mental attitude and concentration. This is something of a recurring theme over recent seasons, mistakes are costing the squad dearly. That it is a continuing problem which has never been solved. To still be searching for a solution with a squad that has so many new faces underlines that it is a culture at the club. Maybe a result of the absence of the directness which Gary Neville noted as being prevalent in the United dressing room, the personal accountability for mistakes. Too nice to win?
Arteta seems genuinely baffled by the current predicament,
We can’t be in that position because we have the best basic structure I’ve ever seen at a football club. Great philosophy, good players, we’ve got financial backing to do whatever we want, unbelievable crowds for the stadium. Let’s go for it
Staying in the Champions League is massive. If we don’t get in those spots it makes everything much more difficult. To any team with top players, you have to ask what’s going to happen. There’s only one answer: we want to improve the team.
We sit and hope that Tottenham or Chelsea repeat their chokes of previous seasons but it is hard to reconcile claims of progress and improvement on last season with a team that sits fifth in the Premier League waiting for April to know whether others will fail. Arteta was rght in his assessment that Arsenal have not been completely outplayed beyond a few moments; in fact Bayern are the only team which has looked genuinely in a higher class. Others are through a mix of their own abilities and our failings but the truth is, it doesn’t matter if a team is higher or lower class, this squad has not been able to string together a series of results for long enough. Even when they have won games, confidence has not resulted; that suggests that whilst they may be talented individuals, as a group they have not gelled mentally. Or as Arteta put it,
We want to be better and next season we want to get more points, which means we will have won more games. I think the board know that and, hopefully, this summer we’ll do something about it.
That would mean Stan sanctioning spend in the transfer market. Maybe Arsène ought to tell him that any new signing is a keen Fly Fisherman; Kroenke appears to have no problem in shelling out for a television channel on that basis.
That is some time away yet, two or so months remain of this season and points do mean prizes. Or more prize money, at least.