The moment we've all been dreading. Or...waiting for?
Arsenal vs. Bayern Munich
Champions League Round of 16, First Leg
Kickoff: Tuesday, February 19, 2:45 PM EST
Emirates Stadium, Islington, Greater London, London, England, United Kingdom, Europe, Northern Hemisphere, Terra
Vivid Color Machine Channel Coverage: Fox Soccer Channel
SBNation Bayern Munich Coverage: Bavarian Football Works
February 16, 2011. Eleven days earlier, Arsenal made EPL history by becoming the first club to blow a four-goal halftime lead as Newcastle United thugged and intimidated a high-flying, pacey Arsenal squad and managed to stun the Gunners to the tune of a 4-4 crazypants draw. An excuse, for sure, but it could be argued that the club had one eye towards their pending Round of 16 first-leg encounter versus European mega-club FC Barcelona. Facing that squad alone, without any off-the-pitch storylines, would've been difficult enough, however there was a particular Arsenal midfielder that had a tad bit of connections and - ahem - shared DNA of our opponents. The club was in crisis, as always, because of the lack of trophies, pots, shiny tin cups and other sorts of fun hardware. Barcelona had just won the Champions League in 2009, then out-classed and embarrassed Arsenal in the knockout stage the season after that. Basically, Arsenal were screwed.
As pessimistic we, as fans, were going into the two-leg tie, something strange happened that night. After conceding an early goal by David Villa, Arsenal played the rest of the match with a renewed vigor. They made timely, well-taken tackles. Cesc Fabregas did all kinds of Cesc Fabregas things on the pitch. Jack Wilshere introduced himself to the rest of the non-Arsenal supporting world that night. We still liked Samir Nasri! And we continued to fight, continued to play the Arsenal way which resulted in two late second-half goals by Robin van Persie and Andrei Arshavin and, after the scoreboard clock struck 90:42, the victory. The near-impossible happened.
(Oh, and that Arsenal squad held Barcelona to one early goal that match? The entire match was played with a starting back four of Gael Clichy, Laurent Koscielny, Johan Djourou and Emmanuel Eboue. Feel free to ponder that for a second or two.)
Now that we have that out of the way, how about we fast-forward to this week, nearly two years to the date, and run over a quick checklist. Still no trophies won since then? Check. Continual player departures? Check. Arsene Wenger's footballing acumen being questioned on a regular basis? Check that with a thick Sharpie, then draw a frowny face adorned with devil horns next to that item. A loss shortly before hosting one of the strongest clubs in the world, thus making every Arsenal supporter get a case of nervous gut? Check. Check, check, Czech (Rosicky was an unused sub in that memorable match two years ago).
Huh. Things are lining up the same. Of course, history plays no part in how future performances turn out, but to simply avoid the similarities is extremely hard to do now. I could go into tactical analysis, but Michael covered that and then some (seriously, go read if you haven't yet). So I'll do what I know how to do best: getting your goofy asses pumped up.
This season is far from over. Far from it. Sure, it's been a rough go and the club hasn't shown the sort of consistency we'd all like to see. But if there's one thing Arsene Wenger's capable of doing, it's somehow getting results at home versus attacking European clubs. While Bayern are a stout bunch in the back, they'll effectively build up the attack to the point that any sort of quick-striking, pacey counterattacks from Arsenal could easily spell trouble for our guests. This match is far from decided - at least, away from paper that is - and we have recent history to show any of the naysayers or doubters that counting Arsenal out on a cool midweek European night in London is unwise. Hell, outside of a forward and a midfielder (but also a side missing Jack Wilshere), this is nearly the same squad that nearly pulled off the impossible last season at home versus Milan, in a match only three days removed from a physical league encounter in Liverpool. Stranger things have happened, for instance, like Blackburn beating Arsenal on the road with a total of two shots on goal in a FA Cup match.
Make no mistake - we are the decided underdogs and rightfully so. Bayern have an ungodly goal-differential in the Bundesliga and are stocked with some of the better players in Europe. Chances are, this column will come back to bite me in the ass, but I'm not going to look at this as some sort of Arsenal death sentence. We have talent, we have a talented, cagey manager and as long as we have Jack Wilshere on the pitch, we'll have a side who's not afraid of anyone. Many have been warning Arsenal and their supporters of what they're about to face and witness. I say it's about goddamn time someone warns Bayern Munich what to expect tomorrow night. Up the motherf*cking Arsenal.
Sagna - Koscielny - Mertesacker - Vermaelen
Ramsey - Arteta
Walcott - Wilshere - Poldoski
Prediction: Arsenal 2-1 Bayern Munich