Arsenal go into Tuesday’s Champions League last 16 second leg against Bayern Munich needing a bout of divine intervention to avoid exiting Europe’s elite competition with a whimper.
The Gunners lost the first leg by three goals to one and were completely outplayed by the German giants, who barely moved out of second gear at the Emirates Stadium. Three away goals, from Toni Kroos, Thomas Muller and Mario Mandzukic, have all but put Jupp Heynckes’ men into the quarter-finals.
But unlike the vast majority of Arsenal fans, Arsene Wenger has not completely given up hope, which is reassuring despite not appearing to be overly sincere. The French boss claims that his team will go to Munich and “have a go” at the unenviable task ahead of them.
In truth, a monumental task like this may be just what Arsenal need. Not in the short-term, of course – a solid victory and clean sheet at home would have gone down a treat ahead of a trip to the Allianz Arena.
But this assignment should be looked upon as a character building scenario, if nothing else. This Gunners team have been on the end of plenty of criticism over the past few months – some of it deserved, some not so deserved – and showing a resilience in the face of extreme adversity could give the club a new vitality.
Arsenal can also call on vital experience too. In last year’s Champions League knockout stages, they were 4-0 down against Milan after the first leg, seemingly down and out. However a rousing second leg back in north London saw them come close to pegging the Italians back, as the hosts ran out 3-0 winners in a fantastic European night.
There isn’t an exact parallel with the Gunners’ current position, with the second leg away from home next week. But Arsenal can still refer back to that tie, with Wojciech Szczesny, Thomas Vermaelen and Theo Walcott among the members of the current squad who were on the pitch that day.
Another crumb of hope for Arsenal, minute and nominal as it may be, is Bayern’s result on Saturday afternoon. While they won the match, their 16th in a row, Fortuna Dusseldorf managed to breach their defence on two occasions, as Bayern edged a 3-2 victory.
The Bundesliga champions elect do have defensive weaknesses which can be exploited, and weren’t completely assured in the first match at the Emirates Stadium. If the likes of Walcott and Santi Cazorla can perform to the best of their abilities, there is the slimmest of chances that the Gunners could pull off one of the greatest upsets in the history European club football.
Should they score three times, as required, they then only have to ensure that Bayern’s attack don’t register – something that hasn’t happened since April 2012. Simple.
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