The Gunners will need all their armoury

Neil Dougan | FEBRUARY 16, 2013, 11:58 AM IST

Just what is going on this season in the European Leagues?  It’s only mid- February and ManchesterUnited, Barcelona, Juventus and Bayern Munich are all running away with theirrespective domestic leagues.  Unlike lastyear when the titles were only decided in the final weeks and days of theseason, and in the case of the EPL literally in the final seconds.  Currently the first knockout stage of theChampions League contains those four Champions–elect.  So it’s going to be a tough trophy to winthis year; but no team or fans could want it more than Bayern Munich.   

Imagine your team not only makes it to the final of the CLbut the venue is your home stadium. How devastating then, to be defeated onpenalties to an inferior side. That’s what happened last May at Bayern Munich’sAllianz Arena when they lost to Chelsea. Such heartache would make most teamscrumble for a season, but instead Bayern have responded with a record breakingwinning streak and are presently 15 points ahead in the Bundesliga.  They do have that bounce-back ability.  Bayern having had the Champions League trophyripped from their hands by two soul-destroying injury time Man United goals in1999, stormed back to win the CL two years later against Valencia.  Now that’s real determination. 

Arsenal needs comparable resilience and fortitude when theyface Bayern next Tuesday Feb 19 in the CL at The Emirates Stadium. When TheGunners finished second in their group they ran the real risk of drawing one ofEurope’s big hitters. They drew the Bavarian giants who have won the CL 4 timesand been finalists twice in the last three finals.  Arsenal manager Wenger reminisces of winningany trophy never mind the CL, as Arsenal are now without silverware in almostnine seasons. To Wenger’s credit they have qualified for the CL for anincredible 15 seasons in a row. Presently they are decimated by defensiveinjuries for the tie and are in the unusual position of being clearunderdogs. 

I think, this decline in Arsenal’s status stems, from itbecoming a `selling club’, to their main rivals in Europe and England. Theyunderstandably buckled to the emotional demand of Fabregas to return to hisboyhood team Barcelona and then they surrendered to Nasri’s desire to fill hispockets at Man City.  However it is quiteanother capitulation to sell your top striker, Robin Van Persie, to ManchesterUnited.  Even Ferguson commented that hecouldn’t believe he got him!  It’s likeMan United selling Rooney to Chelsea. Unthinkable.

The only lifeline Arsenal may have is that Bayern slip intosome kind of pre- Guardiola hiatus as they await the arrival of the Messiah ofModern Football. Pep Guardiola quit Barcelona at the end of last season and hadbeen living in New York with his family. Then Bayern suddenly announced a monthago that he would be their head coach next season.  Managers Mancini of Man City and Ancelloti ofPSG unclenched in relief.  Benitez ofChelsea simply fainted and was revived by being fanned with a towel by hisprotégé Fernando Torres. The unclenching and fanning is hard to prove but inthe spirit of what was undoubtedly collective relief, I stand by myexaggeration.

Arsenal will be happy to hear that Bayern boss Jupp Heynckeshas admitted the media frenzy; sparked by the Guardiola announcement has nothelped his side. "Anyone who knows me knows that I am the boss here."he blustered to Sky Sports.  ButGuardiola’s shadow hangs long over the present set-up, like a new Pope who hasbeen appointed but has to hang around for six more months. Which is ironic asone of Bayern supporters is the outgoing Pope Benedict XVI – I wonder ifGuardiola thinks, even top position wouldn’t have been too big for him?

This is one of the toughest tests Arsenal could face andWenger knows they cannot display any of the frailties of this season if theyare to get through against Bayern. Wenger once bellowed, “At some clubs success is accidental. At Arsenalit is compulsory." What better contest to prove it.

Neil Dougan was a youth player for Glasgow Celtic Boys Club and is a British Series Producer and Director for all the major UK broadcasters: BBC, Sky, Channel 4, and ITV.  He recently scripted, produced and directed `The Boss: 25 Years of Sir Alex Ferguson’ for Manchester United TV.  He spends his time between Goa and the UK, with his wife and son.

In ‘Eye on the ball’ Neil Dougan will put his football expertise to paper –history and punditry with a generous pinch of personal experience 

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