Why Arsenal boss must sacrifice Munich dream and focus on FA Cup
PUBLISHED: 12:16 03 March 2014
Arsene Wenger will no doubt be exhorting his troops to believe they can achieve the impossible again when they head to Bavaria next week.
Arsenal, of course, were trailing by two goals after the first leg of their Champions League tie with Bayern Munich a year ago – and gave the Germans an almighty scare by winning 2-0 in the Allianz Arena.
The fact that the Gunners still departed the competition on away goals, while Bayern went on to achieve European supremacy, is perhaps often overshadowed by their heroic effort in that second leg, restoring honour and going down in a blaze of glory.
This time, there are compelling grounds to think that a repeat scenario might yet be possible.
Arsenal’s impressive, high-tempo performance until they lost goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny to a red card just before half-time, for instance, offers cause for optimism.
Then there is the fact that the Gunners have already triumphed away to last season’s runners-up Borussia Dortmund – and also that Bayern lost at home to English opposition, Manchester City, in the group stage.
On the other hand, it is impossible to ignore the extent to which Bayern dominated the second half at the Emirates as Philipp Lahm, Toni Kroos, Mario Gotze and Rafinha stroked the ball around with ease, albeit against 10 men.
Even if Wenger can seriously envisage lightning striking twice, it must be a struggle for even the most optimistic Arsenal supporter to do so.
The question the Frenchman must now ponder is how best to approach the second leg on March 11, given that it comes just three days after Everton visit the Emirates in the last eight of the FA Cup.
Wenger fielded a weakened side in the last round against Liverpool and was perhaps fortunate to get away with that gamble. But surely it would be asking for trouble to repeat the tactic against their neighbours.
One of Wenger’s predecessors as Arsenal manager, George Graham, has made it clear that he favours resting players for the Bayern tie ahead of a testing league schedule that pits the Gunners against Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester City in quick succession.
Graham told the BBC: “One of the questions facing Arsene is whether they play their best team and try to win the tie, which is near impossible, or concentrate on the league.
“Personally I’d play a weakened team because I think the second half of the first leg was like a practice match for Bayern.
“It took a lot out of Arsenal and they have some very tough games coming up. They need fresh legs and fresh minds and this is one of the big decisions managers have to make.”
Graham is absolutely right and, although he did not allude to the Everton tie, that too must be given greater priority than the trip to Munich.
Whether Wenger likes it or not, the supporters are desperate for a trophy – and most would gladly forgo a Champions League tie that looks lost to maintain their hopes of lifting the FA Cup in May.
The Premier League title would, of course, be a greater prize. But Arsenal have at least made a genuine challenge for the crown this season and that, after failing to do so in recent years, represents progress in itself.
It goes against the grain for Wenger to abandon his dream of conquering Europe for another year. But he needs to do so if Arsenal are to make this season a memorable one.