Arsenal go into the Allianz Arena today needing to score three goals in one game against a Bayern team that has conceded only nineteen in thirty-seven games. In those games, it is true that Bayern has been more generous at home, where they’ve conceded twelve of those goals. Only once have they conceded three goals in a game–against BATE Borisov, a game of such low priority that only 16,000 fans bothered to show up. At a stadium that seats 40,000 or so, not even Borisov’s fans seemed to care enough about the game. It’s such an anomaly that it doesn’t offer much of a blueprint for the Gunners to draw hope from, even if we were fielding our best, which we’re not.
Much of the talk has been on how a strong performance matters in order to generate momentum for our upcoming Prem fixtures, but I just don’t buy into it. A draw would positively thrill me, even if it comes about through a mixture of stern backline play and a Bayern team content go through on aggregate rather than press their advantage. We haven’t kept a clean sheet since February 9th against Sunderland, and with attackers such as Wilshere and Podolski out, scoring falls lower on the list that a tight defensive display.
As a second matter, the talk of needing a strong outcome as some kind of momentum-generator falls flat or rings hollow, I can’t decide which. In either case, it falsely raises the stakes for a match that we just don’t need. I almost added “and just can’t win” but I just don’t subscribe to that way of thinking. We can win this match, and I don’t mean in that “on any given day” kind of stuff, nor will I appeal to the “if BATE Borisov can do it…” rationale, either. We do have enough quality to grapple with and, yes, beat Bayern. However, there are too many factors to contend with–scoring three goals against any team is a challenge, nevermind one in Bayern’s form. We’re on the road. We go in short-handed and without two of our more-energetic attackers. Yes, we’re demoralized–but that’s not due to the 3-1 loss, nor does changing that mindset hinge exclusively on doing something historic tonight. Sure, a win tonight would be great, and a going through to the next round even moreso.
On the other hand, it’s not like a loss will further demoralize us. Other losses have been more demoralizing–games against opponents we simply should dispatch, like Blackburn. Will a loss tonight throw us into a tailspin? I doubt it. A loss against Swansea or Reading has more power to do that. Even before the first leg matchups were announced, we knew that advancing in the UCL was unlikely, so what does it matter if we don’t advance, which is what we expected? Surprise losses and upsets are demoralizing. Heck, I might even be able to watch this match with complete detachment, maybe even enjoying Bayern’s organization and skill. If nothing else, it beats getting my knickers in a twist over something I can’t control. Better to sit back with some popcorn and a bevvie or two and enjoy whatever unfolds.