13 March 2014

Thursday Throwdown: Bayern and Beyond

Andrew: Well Jess, another year, another exit from the Champions League in the round of sixteen at the hands of Bayern Munich. While I never want Arsenal to lose a single match, I feel strangely content with what happened on Tuesday, especially after the awful turn the first leg took. In my mind, winning in Munich was going to be incredibly difficult and I wanted to see a good performance more than anything since I had mostly accepted elimination anyway. 

Lukas Podolski scored for Arsenal in Munich, but it wasn't enough to see the Gunners through.
The Gunners held up their end of the bargain with a draw to the world's best team and we even got to celebrate a goal courtesy of Lukas Podolski. Perhaps even better was Lukasz Fabianski's penalty save after Arjen Robben dove in the box for the second time in the match, a moment that was loudly celebrated in the bar including some choice words that perhaps should not be repeated here. 

Elimination never feels good, but with a close league race winding down and a clear path to the FA Cup in front of us, I don't feel like the loss is the end of the world. Have you rationalized things the same way or are you more of the fell-asleep-with-a-bottle-of-whiskey-in-your-hand type?

Jess: I think I've rationalized some things in a similar manner, but to be honest I was much more sad than usual after yesterday's Champions League exit and I'm not entirely sure why. Maybe it's because Robben– aka the devil incarnate (who by the way entered my top ten most hated footballers with his Academy Award winning performance last night)– didn't get what he deserved from Flamini. Maybe it's because I'm upset that cheating like that is too often forgiven and forgotten. Maybe it's because to me it seems obvious that we are in desperate need of another striker– and I stick by Arsene through and through– but with minimal transfers over the years and maximum injuries currently it looks like we might be forced to field a youth squad pretty soon and that angers me.

Maybe it's because I really hadn't accepted elimination until about 10 minutes left to play when I should have accepted it a couple of weeks ago. Don't get me wrong, I'm incredibly proud of the Gunners, and in particular of the heart, courage and desire put on display by the defense. I'm actually disappointed that I left that game feeling particularly sad and bummed. I think that for the second year straight we were eliminated from European competition in a manner deserving of great respect, and I hope that this result gives us the confidence needed to make a really stellar run for the EPL title and FA Cup trophy this year.

Andy, aside from the Ox and the goal from Poldi in the second half, did you find anything redeeming about our offensive display last night? If I'm going to be really blunt I thought that Arteta was garbage (whyyy would he hold onto the ball in the center of the pitch for SO damn long vs. the best in the world, just waiting to get beat?!), and although I hate to say it Santi didn't have his best performance last night either. Are the Gunners capable of the beautiful offense that we've seen in games past this season with so many injuries right now?

Andrew: To be honest, I'm not going to read too much into the way that the offense performed last night, nor do I think that they were that bad to begin with. It was an average performance but I think it had a whole lot to do with playing the best team in the world at their home stadium, which is going to make most teams look weaker than normal. It would make some sense to make annoyed that we didn't look good on the counter-attack, but that's also not the way the Gunners are built to play, especially with Giroud up top. It's a team that's built to control the ball and pass well to create opportunities, so it's difficult to throw all of that away against a team that does what we do better than us and go with a whole different strategy. A strategy, by the way, that was never going to be too effective because Bayern were playing to control the game and not lose 2-0 or worse, so space, even on the counter, was always going to be limited.

In the end, I chalk this up to Arsenal being in a very difficult spot (due to the result in the first leg) against a very good team and in most circumstances a 1-1 draw would have been an outstanding result. Unfortunately, this time it sends us out of the Champions League.

Now that the Gunners are down to two competitions, what do you want the club to get out of this season? The FA Cup is within sight but the league isn't over yet, so there is much to play for. Even though the Champions League is done for us, do you think going to Munich and getting a result will help the players as they look to close out the season with a trophy or two?

Jess: It's certainly my hope that the result in Munich will help the players as they look to close out the season with a couple of trophies. Thanks to the beautiful angel city of Wigan, who valiantly defeated City for the second time (you only sing when you're winning, City), the FA Cup is within sight and getting that trophy alone would make this season a success in my eyes. It would be no small feat; we've already taken down the likes of Liverpool, Sp*rs and Everton on our road to Wembley. We shouldn't overlook Wigan either, as they're clearly a threat if they've managed to defeat City twice in less than 12 months (plus they've got Ali Al Habsi, a legendary fantasy goalkeeper for my team over the years). What scares me the most about the FA Cup is that it'd be really devastating not to win it at this point, which puts a lot of pressure on the boys. I think they're ready for it, though.

The league isn't over yet either, and with games against Chelsea and City we have the potential to cause some of the other top sides to drop points. I would love more than anything to get a win at Stamford Bridge and crush Mourinho's record (I've also got a bet going that will leave me wearing a Chelsea jersey for 10 days if the boys don't get a W), and giving it to City at home would be wonderful too. If we can be consistent and win as many of these last ten games as possible, I don't see why we can't believe that other teams will drop a few points and that we may have a chance at the EPL title. Do you see the same possibility? Would you be happy with the FA Cup? And what if this ends up being another trophy-less season for the Gunners?

The FA Cup may be Arsenal's best chance for a trophy this season.

Andrew: Another season without silverware would be pretty heartbreaking at this point because Arsenal really should win the FA Cup. No disrespect to Wigan or the winner of Hull City vs Sheffield United, but those are all teams that the Gunners need to beat and to not do so, even in the more volatile one game scenario, would be devastating. For me, the FA Cup and a top four (hopefully top three) place would be a fantastic season, especially knowing that this team will only gel further and the money is available to improve the squad for next year.

That, to me, is the crux of all of this. I always thought this year was going to be the transition year while Ozil worked into the team and our young talent matured. All of a sudden Ramsey is one of the best midfielders in England, the defense is rock solid, Giroud is converting chances and BANG BANG! We're top of the table heading into 2014. Then City and Chelsea stopped dropping stupid games, we had some slip ups of our own, and people are freaking out that we're "collapsing" when two of our most important players are out injured and this is the result all of us thought we'd see anyway. It'd be laughable if it wasn't so frustrating.

If Arsenal win the FA Cup and guarantee Champions League games for next year, I will consider this season a monumental success. Because guess what? With a healthy team, more time for development, and some smart purchases during the summer, 2014-2015 will be the year that Arsenal are seen as legitimate title contenders once again.

Jess: Let's hope that the FA Cup is ours then Andy, and who knows - maybe next year we'll win the treble. Now to focus on Tottenham Hate Week ahead of the big North London Derby this Sunday. COYG.

You can follow the authors on Twitter: Jess (@jloarsenal) and Andrew (@AWKlema)

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