On Tuesday night, Arsenal face almost an impossible task to qualify for the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League.
To gain the respect of their own fans, winning the tie isn’t expected, to a degree, the Gunners don’t even have to record a victory on the night. This is Bayern Munich. However, there must be some level of performance, something to show that the players still care, an indication that the squad that Arsène Wenger has can play to the level the fans want and desire.
“You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can't please all of the people all of the time”
No one knows this more than Wenger.
Arsenal’s Weak Mentality
“I don’t think (Arsenal have) got a particularly strong dressing room,” former England international Frank Lampard told Monday Night Football on Sky Sports. “You go through it – I don’t know them personally – you wonder who are the strong characters.”
This is an area where Arsenal are weak. There are no true captains on the pitch. Characters like Tony Adams, Lee Dixon and Patrick Vieira are long gone, but who are the club’s leaders now?
On Tuesday, there is a chance for members of the squad to make themselves known, showing leadership.
As wonderful a defender as Laurent Koscielny is, he doesn’t come across as a vocal leader during games. Guidance from the back would be a huge help and give assistance to the young Shkodran Mustafi.
Even in the midfield, Granit Xhaka has continued his reckless reputation, picking up several red cards in the league. Francis Coquelin looks out of his depth against the biggest clubs and Aaron Ramsey, who could be a future Arsenal captain, hasn’t progressed – similar to Jack Wilshere – due to injuries.
Up front, especially in the first leg, Alexis Sanchez looked like the only player who cared, but his fiery temperament has reportedly riled up players and staff the wrong way. That is the passion that the club needs, and it’s a black mark against the experienced coach if he is not able to help the Chilean harness it in a positive manner.
“When you’re in that position that Arsenal are at the minute it becomes very difficult for a manager to deal with it,” continued Lampard. “He’s tried to deal with it but he hasn’t really drawn a big line. He’s drawn a half-hearted line.”
Arsenal’s First-leg failings
That half-hearted approach has filtered down to the team and it was evident in the first-leg defeat.
Arsenal started brightly, with Alexis Sanchez signalling to his team-mates to continue the press and put the Germans under pressure.
For Bayern’s opening goal, Mesut Özil switched off, and in the second half, with the game level, Alex Iwobi failed to track runs down the Arsenal left and it created a chance for the home side to score.
It is the minimum that the fans should expect or believe that the players will put in 90 minutes of effort. Chase every ball down, make dangerous runs in behind, and just show that you care.
“I think the most important in the second half [was] we lost Koscielny very quickly. And suddenly it looked like we collapsed,” said a despondent Wenger after the 5-1 defeat in Munich. “Mentally, we collapsed, and overall I must say they are a better team than us as well. They played very well in the second half and we dropped our level. And we were a bit unlucky as well, but overall, well done Bayern. They were better than us.”
As we discussed after the first leg, although the blow of losing the French defender during the game was huge, the Arsenal team switched off and collapsed before his departure.
That just added to the misery.
On Tuesday, no one on this team can afford to show the same apathy on the night.
Mistakes always happen, regardless of whether you are trying your best. However, that is not the same if giving up and not showing that you believe.
Achieving the impossible
Deportivo La Coruna showed in 2004 what can happen with a little bit of belief. They were 5-1 down in the Champions League quarter-final against Carlo Ancelotti’s AC Milan, but the Spanish side did the impossible.
Facing a defence with Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Nesta, a fifth-minute strike from Walter Pandiani gave them hope, but by half-time they were 3-0 up and everyone at the La Riazor believed it could happen.
“I want to forget but I'm not able to forget,” Ancelotti admitted when the Depor game was brought up during the pre-match press conference.
“This is the beauty of football because in football you never know and I think that experience was good for me to avoid this kind of problem.
An early goal is crucial for Arsenal, that will lift everyone’s spirits.
Yet, Arsenal don’t even have to win on the night, just show a hunger, belief and desire that they care as much as the fans do, then the club will have something to build on.