Playing in Torquay, apparently.
Arsenal arrived in Bavaria missing Jack Wilshere and the Sky promptly fell in at that announcement, more concerned about England’s upcoming World Cup qualifiers than any Premier or Champions League commitments of his club. The news was not unexpected with rumours abounding that Wilshere was out, so too Szczesny and Sagna. Never fear, Abou’s here. Or is he in Munich, he might actually play.
There are precedents for the unlikeliest of victories tonight. Panathinaikos with a very mixed team succumbed to their first home defeat to an English club, Real Madrid, Internazionale and Milan. Progress this evening would be more akin to Juve in 1980 than any Champions League heroics. To be honest, I cannot see Arsenal getting the required number of goals to achieve that; a win is not beyond them by any means but three clear goals or scoring more than four whilst conceding two less, is just stretching credibility. Even with Schweinsteiger, Boateng, Ribery and possibly Robben missing, there is too much experience in the Bayern defence to fail to see out the tie. And in a sense, that’s a good thing; expectations are low, pressure is off to a certain extent. I am sure that Arsène and the players will be going all out for the win but probably happy in one sense with a confidence boosting win classed as heroic failure ahead of the trip to South Wales.
Lukasz Fabianski is likely to start tonight for the first time in over a year; Vito Mannone might feel somewhat aggrieved at that but the Pole is a better goalkeeper. His problem is that confidence underpins his game and what state that is in, who knows? But if there is one player that you want to have a good game, it is Fabianski if for no better reason than giving his digital dexterity the chance to shine in the general direction of his numerous detractors. Possibly a case of wishful thinking since Fabianski seems destined for the exit door this Summer. It is strange how his career has turned out as he has consistently been rated by coaches and other goalkeepers, as the best at the club. Something happens on match-days, rushes of blood or teenage fumbles occur regularly, almost as if the initial intention behind the acts is to convince himself that he is confident in his abilities. The footballing equivalent of stage fright, if you like. It is this lack of depth in the goalkeeping department which is fuelling the stories of interest in Valdes and Reina although the latter is doing his damnedest to prove himself the Spanish Fabianksi. Succeeding too.
The match offers a chance for some sharpness to be acquired from players who have been injured or curiously omitted. In the former camp will fall – although hopefully not literally – Kieran Gibbs and Abou Diaby. For the England youngster, it is a welcome return for no better reason than actually having a specialist left back in the side, rather than a makeshift and make-do solution. When Gibbs eventually gets back up to full fitness, Arsène has an interesting choice to make for whilst Monreal is not infallible, he has been consistently reliable, more than any other left back this season. Diaby? I am not convinced I would play him this evening, not from the start at least. According to Wenger, he is waiting on a fitness test which suggests an imminent breakdown the minute he trips over the white line. Tomas Rosicky offers a more experienced, if no less injury-prone, alternative and to be fair to the Czech, he has not let Arsenal down this season in his performances. As with last season, his experience in Wilshere’s absence may provide the spark and some sorely missed leadership in the centre of the park.
At yesterday’s press conference, Wenger stopped short (just) of saying this was a dead rubber and that Saturday’s trip to Swansea more important in the wider context of the season. Truth be told the preparation for this is more like that of the last pre-season friendly before the big kick-off in August; eyes are on the bigger prize. Champions League participation next season relies entirely on others failings as well as Arsenal negating their own so little blame can be attached to the manager for resting any player whose fitness is dubious. A shame that he had not done that earlier with Jack Wilshere if reports are true that this injury is the same as his last, albeit on the other ankle.
The line-up I expect at kick-off is:
Fabianski; Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs; Rosicky, Ramsey, Arteta; Walcott, Giroud, Cazorla
It would be little surprise to see Oxlade-Chamberlain drop in for either Walcott or Giroud, possibly Diaby for Cazorla as well, just to complete the League Cup feeling. As it is, hope springs eternal but whether the flicker of victory is dimmed by looking ahead remains to be seen. Barcelona yesterday became the first club to overturn a two-goal deficit in Champions League history according to some. I don’t know if it is true but there seems little expectation of Arsenal joining them. Mind you, this season’s knockout phase has been strange with only Dortmund and Juventus progressing so far of the teams in a good position after the first leg. The rest have been less expected. Never say never…
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.