The phrase “men against boys” was never as evident as Bayern’s utter demolition of Arsenal this past Wednesday in the first leg of their round of 16 meeting in the Champions League. And we thought Barcelona’s outing in the previous day against PSG was a one sided affair.
Not only were Arsenal outclassed with the ball, they were nowhere near the physical levels of the well-oiled machine that is Bayern Munich.
Arsenal did have glimpses of an attacking presence on the counterattack, taking advantage of Alexis Sanchez’s pace against the likes of Martinez and Hummels and eventually did get a goal after Lewandowski caught Koscielny’s foot in the penalty area. The penalty was taken in the most Arsenal-like way by Alexis, taking 3 hits at it to finally smash it home, giving every fan a near heart attack.
And just like that Arsenal were 1-1 going into halftime with a crucial away goal, albeit very lucky. Any sense of optimism Arsenal fans had leading up to the second half had been crushed in less than just 10 minutes of the second half. It felt like the inevitable was happening right before our eyes – goal after goal. In those situations you are forced to simply swallow your pride as an Arsenal fan and accept that Bayern are the superior team. Technically better with a supreme work rate, not many teams in the world stand a chance.
Although highlighting certain individuals and barraging them with blame is never beneficial after a game, it is understandably done in the heat of the moment where fans are emotional and need to summon a scapegoat. In the case of this game, Coquelin’s moment of madness leading up to Robben’s beautiful curling effort past a helpless Ospina left many people in utter disbelief. You could just hear whispers of “don’t let him cut in on his left foot…” Even from people who don’t follow the sport.
To be fair to Coquelin, he is not the first victim to fall prey to Robben’s signature move. He has made a living doing it. Robben cutting inside from the right wing on his infamous left foot is a sight that everyone in the world is all too familiar with seeing. Despite this, Coquelin should have been more proactive and at least tried to force him back outside or block off the shot. This instance has once again perfectly showcased the naivety of Arsenal.
Traveling to the German giants and coming up short is understandable, but the manner in which Arsenal got completely dominated was soul wrenching. Bayern looked like men while Arsenal looked like little boys in the park trying to get a kick of the ball against the big kids.
The problem with Arsenal seems to lie in the mentality of the club. Even though Arsenal are more combative and less naive on the pitch, a mental fragility that has seen them dwindle out of title-races and grasping at top 4 finishes creeps up on them and they fold.
This lack of mental strength can be attributed to Arsene Wenger, who has inadvertently caused a great divide in the fan base. Wenger coddles his players and is not cutthroat enough with them. Some may view this player management as a positive as it instills confidence and creative freedom in players, but if you’re a fan of ruthless tacticians like Wenger’s antithesis, Mourinho, you’ll be frustrated by his loyalty to certain players.
Despite what you think of Wenger, whether you now hate his guts and want him out or will stick by him till the end, he is the type of manager who the Football world and his own players have a deep affinity for. He trusts his player and sticks with them even when they are going through rough patches of form. Players want to play for Arsenal because of Wenger, as much as people who want him out hate to hear. Yes, there was an Arsenal before Arsene, but his influence on the club and previous success are undeniable. He is engrained in Arsenal and not because his first name sounds similar to the name of the club.
Wenger is a sort of mystical figure that everyone in Football respects. From his philosophy of the game to the way he anxiously scans the action from the touchline, Wenger has a larger than life aura about him. (What comes to mind is when Wenger cut an almost God-like figure perched up with his arms outstretched in the stands amongst fans at Old Trafford after getting booted from the touchline. Important to note lot of those fans were applauding him!)
As a man, Wenger has always stayed true to his morals and has gracefully ignored much of the bait pundits and managers have thrown his way to discourage him. This signifies the way in which he manages Arsenal. Wenger has always been a staunch defender of his players. He never throws a player under the bus and deflects all criticism of the team performance onto himself. It is baffling that people are honestly questioning Wenger’s commitment to Arsenal. It is one thing to want a new manager, but to say he does not care about Arsenal is inconsiderate to a man who has poured everything he has into the club. He has neglected his own family and health, spending long hours and sacrificing his physical and mental well-being to get this club to where fans want it to be.
If you come up short at something, your failure is not always an indication that you did not give everything you had towards the cause. Your tactics for successful may have been off, but your intent to succeed never changes. Even though Wenger can be criticized for being extremely stubborn by persisting with the same tactics year after year, his commitment for Arsenal to succeed remains. Fans can want Wenger out, but attacking him personally and questioning his commitment to the club is disrespectful to a man who has contributed so much to Arsenal and still has a grave face after every bad result.