Last year, when changes to the seeding system were announced, Arsenal fans were both outraged and excited. Outraged because the new system meant only champions would be seeded in the first pot. Our chances at becoming champions last year at that stage looked, let’s put it mildly, slim. However, the fans were also excited to have a potentially tough team in our group, one which would spice things up. I mean, isn’t it great to face a proper opponent at an earlier stage?
No. No, it isn’t. Not the way things turned out to be. It was a great idea in theory, an enticing one, but when your qualification basically hinges on getting a good result against probably the best team in Europe, the idea becomes less enticing.
Theoretically we can even qualify on six points. That was exactly what Zenith did last year, setting a new Champions League anti-record. However, we will need a whole lot of luck to repeat this feat should we lose the following two games. In other words, I don’t believe we’ll get through to the knockout stages without getting at least 4 points in our next two games.
Is it achievable? Yes, it is, but it is also goddamn hard. And our uphill struggle starts on Tuesday evening, at the Emirates, against Bayern Munich. It’s showtime.
Team news update
Gabriel will be back in time to make the squad, which is the only piece of news really. When asked about Ospina, Wenger gave a straight answer: the Colombian is out with a shoulder injury, one he sustained on international duty, so he won’t be included.
At this point I do have to wonder what’s happening with Ospina. Was there a gentleman’s agreement between him and Wenger when the latter bought Cech? If so, what did it include, what were the talking points?
For example, did Wenger make a promise to our Colombian shot stopper he’ll play in the Champions League, at least during the group stages? Must have been hard coming to your current number 1 goalkeeper and saying “Hey, you know this Cech bloke I bought for 10 million? Well, he is the new number 1”.
Of course Wenger didn’t deliver the message that way, but it is also obvious Arsene never had the intention of sticking to Ospina as our league goalkeeper once the upgrade was brought in. So to soften the blow and give the goalkeeper who did well and was only bought a year ago a chance to reinstate himself as our number 1, I’m pretty sure Arsene decided to play David in every other competition barring the league. Sounds fair enough.
Problem is, Ospina did little since the start of the season to prove he is a better goalkeeper than Cech or that he, indeed, stands a chance of fighting back the place between the sticks. For starters, Cech, while putting on a horror show during the first league game, recovered from that and got 5 clean sheets in the next 8 games.
Then, there are Ospina’s performances to look at and he hasn’t exactly covered himself in glory. He was solid against Tottenham, probably could have done better against Zagreb, but his Olympiakos game did the real damage. You can’t account for a deflection or shit defending, but the way David just dropped the ball over the line for that second…
Regular readers of my posts or, indeed, my Twitter timeline, know that I harbour a lot of sympathy for Ospina. I like him for his calm and professional attitude, it makes a nice change from Szczesny’s cockiness, I like him for how he opted to stay and fight when Cech came in. But I do realise one harsh truth: he has to actually play good football to start for us week in week out. My argument in his defense, when people say he is not world class, is that he doesn’t make mistakes. He won’t always save you, but he’ll rarely get you in trouble either.
This is a precarious argument to build your case on: once it’s no longer valid, there’s nothing you can do. I’m not saying one mistake means Ospina is no longer reliable, no, but this year our Colombian goalie looks…disinterested. Much like Debuchy did in his couple of games. Or Oxlade, though I do hope it’s temporary in his case.
Anyway, I’m getting a bit sidetracked here. Ospina won’t play tomorrow and I do wonder whether that’s really because of an injury, or because he lost the manager’s trust. Or maybe because Arsene wants to put Ospina out of the firing line for now?
Whatever it is, it doesn’t look good for David. I can only hope he grabs his next chance to impress with both hands. Time is not on his side, especially since no one knows how far we’ll go in the cups.
After saying he might rest Alexis and Ozil after the Watford game, Arsene today (Monday) denied he will:
“You would be surprised if I told you that I would rest them tomorrow, so I can tell you certainly not. Normally they should play tomorrow.”
Which in my opinion is the correct decision. Alexis and Ozil are our top performers at the moment, so if we want to stand a chance of beating Bayern, we are going to need both players from the very first minutes.
Other than that it will be interesting to see who Arsene picks in central defense. Who does he view as first-choice? Something tells me Koscielny is undroppable, so it’s a race between Gabriel and Mertesacker.
It’s a hard choice to make. Gabriel played less with Koscielny than Mertesacker did, and any miscommunication in such a game can prove costly indeed. But if we look at things from the other perspective, can Mertesacker handle Lewandowski, who is in hot-red form? I don’t know. I doubted Mertesacker before and was usually proven wrong by him, so I think I’ll just concede we have three centre-backs of highest quality and move on.
Can Arsene make other changes? I’ve seen suggestions it would be better to try Ramsey centrally in order to contain Vidal. This move will also free a slot for Oxlade on the right.
Personally, I’m not sure Wenger will tamper with the existing system in a game of such magnitude. He seems relatively comfortable with rotating his centre-backs, but, he didn’t challenge the Coquelin-Cazorla-Ozil trio after the initial experiment with Ramsey in the middle and Oxlade on the right in the Community Shield and the first league game. Really can’t see him doing it now, though I do have a hunch Wenger will throw in a wildcard Pep may not expect.
Predicted line-up: Cech – Bellerin – Gabriel – Koscielny – Monreal – Coquelin – Cazorla – Ozil – Alexis – Ramsey – Walcott (ploughed for Gabriel purely because he started both previous CL games)
How do you stop a team of Bayern’s magnitude and momentum? A team which won 12 games in a row, scoring a shedload of goals along the way? I surely don’t know, but I hope Wenger does.
If I have learned anything during these past few weeks, it’s that we can adapt to opponents. We can hit them from the off like a hurricane (the normal one, not that overgrown Draco Malfoy version), we can play sterile possession to tire them out, or we can just set up two banks of four and hit them on the break. We’ll find out what Arsene has in store for Bayern less than 24 hours from now.
Come on you Gunners. Get your campaign underway already.