Before kick off, even the most positive of Arsenal fans will have struggled to see anything other than Bayern progressing. There’s just no way a team missing 7 key players is going to win 3-0 away to Bayern, especially when you also pick up a couple more knocks during the game. The outcome was almost a formality tonight, which is why it is less gutting than normal when you exit the Champions League at this stage. It would have taken a full strength team delivering a perfect performance to get the job done, it just wasn’t possible.
There are many, many positives that we can take from tonight. Firstly, players who have hardly featured this season (Podolski, Vermaelen & Fabianski) were called upon and all performed superbly. Podolski was tireless, fired up and scored a great goal, Vermaelen was solid & played well against the double threat of Lahm & Tom Daley (Robben) and Fabianski made some great saves including a brilliant penalty & follow up double save. This can only be good for us because whoever plays now knows someone equally as good is behind them waiting for their chance meaning they can’t get complacent, and it gives us much needed options for rotation as our squad is decayed by injury as usual.
Staying with injuries, here’s how things look after tonight. Bendtner, Sanogo, Walcott, Wilshere, Ramsey, Kallstrom, Diaby, Gibbs, Monreal & Szczesny (suspended) were all out before the game, while Ox & Rosicky may have picked up minor knocks & Ozil has apparently torn his hamstring. That’s 12 players injured in the absolute worst case but it must be said that Ramsey & Kallstrom are due back on Sunday, Gibbs has an outside chance & Szczesny will also be recalled which gives us 4 improved substitutes from tonight. I also doubt Ox & Rosicky will fail to recover by Sunday so we should have enough to beat Spurs even without Ozil. Sanogo & Bendtner also trained yesterday which surely means they can’t have picked up serious injuries. Cazorla ran himself ragged tonight so I wouldn’t be surprised if he pulled up in the coming weeks and had a spell injured too.
As soon as our potential opponents after the group stages were revealed, we knew no matter who we played it would take a massive effort to progress. A selection of Althetico Madrid, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich & PSG really was a lose-lose situation, 1 that would take 2 brilliant performances to come through. Its a shame that we’re out, especially in the manner of how it all unravelled but this was not a realistic trophy for us to go for. Our consistency has seen us top the league since basically the 2nd week and our desire/home advantage has seen us reach the FA Cup semi finals.
I cannot stress how vital the FA Cup is, failure to win it would be almost unforgiveable. We are quite clearly the favourites but that honestly means nothing as Wigan are the holders and beat Man City while Hull are a hard working team with quality. We could perform brilliantly as we have for the whole cup run, or we could get nervous at Wembley and miss out again. Nothing is confirmed in the cup but we are only 2 winning performances against teams with less quality than us away from our 1st trophy in 9 years. The FA Cup must be prioritised far more than the League in my opinion. It would be monumentally tough to win the league after 9 trophy less years, that’s why we need to regain a winning mentality through the FA Cup and then go for it next year. The players will be fully aware of how good of a chance it is after seeing City lose & once again we are given a warning before playing a tricky small team. Normally we get complacent and lose to small teams but this season they have a big result just before we play meaning we take them seriously and perform efficiently, if we carry this on and perform to our strengths than we have a brilliant chance in the FA Cup.
Lastly, I feel the difference at Wembley will be 1 key selection and that is Flamini over Arteta. I love both and I agree all day long that Arteta is a better footballer but Flamini has been the key for our consistency in my opinion. His passion and leadership against even the small teams brings out better team performances, whereas Arteta focuses more on his own game. 1-0 up against small teams Flamini is barking and running like mad demanding perfection, he doesn’t allow the players to switch off and that will be key at Wembley because it will take 100% commitment to get to the final. He also gives more freedom to the attacking players which could tip the game at Wembley, especially if Ramsey, Ox & Ozil are all fit & firing. I wouldn’t be against playing Arteta & Flamini against Wigan because it has worked well recently, provides extra protection and Wigan cannot be taken lightly.
There are 11 games left this season, 12 if we get to the final which is by no means a formality. The only way I could see us winning the league is if we beat Chelsea & we win around 6 of the remaining 8 league games after that fixture. Unfortunately, I expect Chelsea’s know how to see them over the line but if we win the FA Cup it won’t matter because we can’t exactly be picky we just need some silverware. I would bite your hand off for 4th and the FA Cup but the beauty is if we give absolutely everything for 11/12 more games we can achieve that and possibly more. I’m extremely nervous for the coming months but we are the mighty Arsenal and the opportunities are there, we just have to want it enough and put in the work.