Arsenal need courage as they prepare to take on Bayern Munich in crucial first leg Champions League tie at the Allianz Arena
13:56 15 February 2017
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The general consensus from the 300 loyal Arsenal fans on this morning’s early flight from Luton Airport was that their beloved heroes required bravery to take on the aristocrats of Bayern Munich in the Champions League tonight.
The wily boss of the formidable Bundesliga champions, Carlo Ancelotti was of the same vein.
When asked what it takes to win the Champions League the experienced campaigner answered at first glibly, then with the understanding of a man who has won the coveted trophy three times and reached four finals.
The stalwart who has picked up the trophy as manager of Real Madrid and AC Milan said: “Usually the team who plays better.”
The former Chelsea boss, who understands Rudyard Kipling’s ‘twin imposters’ of success and failure better than most, then expanded with as much insight as can be expected during a respectful pre-match phoney war between two managers who clearly respect each other, in him and Arsene Wenger.
He explained that to win the Champions League “you have to have courage, personality, experience and luck,” – but – he underlined the word again while purposely omitting others for emphasis: “You need courage.”
Courage, bravery, a refusal to take a backward step in the face of daunting odds, mental strength, solidarity with your teammates, and – just as importantly for players like Mesut Ozil – a deep belief in yourself and your talents.
Call it what you will but Wenger’s Gunners have flatlined at this stage of the tournament for the previous five years, since progressing to the quarter finals against Pep Guardiola’s ‘peak Barcelona’ – where they were eclipsed 6-3 on aggregate including suffering a four goal Lionel Messi blast at the Camp Nou.
Indeed, their last victory in a tie which saw them progress came in a 5-0 thumping of a poor Porto side at the Emirates this month seven long years ago.
The team was captained by Manuel Almunia – who had appeared without distinction as a substitute for the banished Jens Lehman during Arsenal’s dramatic 2-1 loss to Barcelona in the 2006 final on a long-lost balmy Paris night in arguably the last great European team Wenger has assembled – and included players who flattered to deceive.
It is instructive to learn the team that night contained Nicklas Bendtner, currently plying his trade at Nottingham Forest, Andrey Arshavin, FC Kairat – based in Almaty, Kazakhstan in case you were wondering – and Alex Song at Rubin Kazan.
Of course it is Arsenal’s bad luck to be drawn against Bayern after they topped the group unbeaten. A group which it has to be said included the same Paris Saint-Germain who thrashed Barcelona last night in the cauldron of the Parc de Princes.
The pairing is even more unfortunate when you consider the North Londoners have been pared three times with the Germans in the last seven seasons – losing out on aggregate every time.
And although the Munich players said all the right things about respecting their opponents tonight a few of those matches – including a 5-1 rout and a particularly comprehensive 3-1 defeat by Jupp Heynckes treble-winning vintage back in 2013 - were notable for the gap in quality between the teams.
There is hope – there always is when discussing the potential of Arsenal to beat big teams.
Even if the reality is that apart from a heart-warming 2-1 win over Guardiola’s Barca at the Emirates inspired by a young lad called Jack Wilshere – whatever happened to him – the team has come up short in huge games, especially in the all-important first leg.
Is it no surprise a 4-0 humiliation at the San Siro against Milan in 2012, the previously mentioned 3-1 home defeat to Bayern four years ago – on top of a 2-0 loss 12 months later, a dispiriting 3-1 broadside from Monaco, and an unexpected 2-0 defeat to Barca last year all came in the first leg – thus ending Arsenal’s chances of progression before the second leg let along before the clocks go forward.
Bayern have not being as imperious as normal in domestic form, struggling against the minnows of Inglestadt at the weekend. Thomas Muller is playing indifferently, and they failed to top their group for the first time since 2009.
If you throw into the mix Wenger castling Ancelotti on a memorable night at the San Siro back in 2008, as well as Olivier Giroud netting in three of his last four Champions League games against Bayern including two in his last three it is, as they say, the hope that kills you.
It is a sunny afternoon here in Munich, with piercing blue skies that suggest spring is only around the corner. The bierkellers of the Aldstadt are already filling up with loyal – and thirsty – Arsenal fans.
The outdoor seating of the atmospheric old market area around the corner from the historic Marienplantz is packed with punters as bars do a roaring trade in the sun.
As the redoubtable Miles from Sport Options tours – who organises trips for Arsenal fans to every European game the club plays – told Gooners as they disembarked at Munich airport: “We’ve turned up again – let’s hope the team does too.”
Everyone nodded in thoughtful agreement.
Let’s hope we our team does someone replied.
But they’ll need to play better than they have done in Europe since the heady days of 2006 tonight.
And for that they’ll need courage.