There’s a football match scheduled for today, Arsenal host presumptive German champions Bayern in a Champions League match at the Emirates, but to read the papers one might be forgiven if they hardly noticed the game through the treacle.
It’s been a tough week to be a fan of Arsenal football club. Not only was the team knocked out of the FA Cup by Blackburn in a dreadfully predictable way but the subsequent fallout from the press, pundits, and some fans has piled on more pressure.
Arsene Wenger, in particular, was the target of calumny by The Sun reporter Phil Thomas who (after a brief search of some of his Arsenal related stories) has almost never printed a truth about Arsenal. This time Phil Thomas printed a story designed to foment anger among the Arsenal fans who have started openly expressing their hatred for Arsene Wenger. The Sun story claimed that Arsene was on the verge of signing a new two year contract and this prompted reporters to ask Arsene if the story was true at his press conference. Wenger responded angrily calling the reports “lies” and asking for the gathered press to show him some respect.
And now the knives are out. The BBC is running an amazing audio interview with disgraced former Arsenal employee Stuart Robson in which the pundit (who works the color commentary for many Arsenal matches) publicly admits that he would like to see Arsene Wenger lose his job. It’s a grotty interview in which Robson reads a laundry list of complaints about the manager: the interview starts out with a character assassination of Arsene Wenger at press conferences saying that if he doesn’t like a question he goes on the assault because he doesn’t handle criticism and from there it’s the usual stuff about the manager being tactically inept.
Robson was never really objective about Arsenal and has now crossed the line from pretending to be objective to outright absurdly subjective. I can’t stand him as a pundit and never could, his insight into the game is decades behind people like Michael Cox and his commentary is always anti-Arsenal. Worse, it doesn’t matter what game he is commenting on, he tries to work in a jab at Arsenal. He is absurd and the BBC should be ashamed of putting him on their show to spout his clownish views of the club.
That’s not to say that Arsenal and Arsene Wenger are beyond reproach. Losing as they did to Blackburn was as predictable as Lindsey Lohan getting a DUI and twice as ugly. Blackburn didn’t do much of anything in the game and came away with the points. They have been given plaudits for their defending but they didn’t even have to do that very well. Arsenal simply looked lackluster for far too long in that game and of course the manager and players are to blame for that. It’s a complaint that I and others have leveled all season.
I’m fairly certain that Arsene Wenger isn’t telling his team to take it easy for 80 minutes. And especially not against clubs like Blackburn who he knows will sit back and try to soak up pressure. And even if Arsene Were to give that speech from Any Given Sunday that everyone seems to love the impetus to stay in the game and to drive the team forward still has to come from the players on the pitch.
And it’s exactly that kind of drive on the pitch which I think will be the deciding factor today. I looked at the numbers yesterday for Arseblog News and when it comes to Champions League fixtures there really isn’t much between the two teams. Bayern have played very well in the Bundesliga this season (most notably, they are a “defense through possession” team and they have only allowed 1 goal in all of their domestic away games) but their away form in the Champions League has been pretty poor and that form came against some rather poor competition, I might add.
It should be a fascinating match because both teams tend to play such a similar style of football. If anything, Bayern look to cross the ball more than Arsenal and tend to hit more long balls. With the whole world expecting Bayern to dominate possession we could see them try to sit back and hit Arsenal on the counter. With the quality that Bayern have up front, counter attacking could be a very effective technique against Arsenal and while I know I will get stick for suggesting it, other possession-type teams like Swansea have ceded possession to Arsenal so it’s not impossible.
Of course, the other possibility is an Arsenal 2-1 Barcelona style match. Arsenal conceded possession to Barcelona in that match (66%) but ended up getting off more shots and getting off the same number of shots on goal. A lot of folks, like Robson, who say that Wenger doesn’t do tactics have a hard time justifying that criticism in the face of that game, where Wenger deliberately played the rope-a-dope against Barcelona. Wenger is frustratingly pig-headed about his approach to games but he is far from intransigent as many think.
Or we could see a battle royale. If Bayern come out and try to take the game and Arsenal do the same, we could end up seeing a 50-50 possession, loads of shots on both goals, type of open game that pretty much everyone in the whole world wants to see. That kind of wild game that it seems like only Arsenal can have.
I like the last option not just because it would be exciting but because it would give the press something else to write about for a change.