It's about performance, not qualification

Posted by Andrew Mangan

Gervinho might talk of miracles and Arsene Wenger of an "impossible dream," but the reality is that Arsenal's job on Wednesday night in Munich is to put in a performance that will provide some kind of launch pad for the last ten Premier League games.

- Does Ribery knock mean 'hope' for Arsenal?
- Podolski out for Bayern, Szczesny rested
- Wilshere sidelined for three weeks


The Gunners need to score at least three goals to go through, and with both Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott suffering something of a scoring drought, and Lukas Podolski injured, they don't look capable of achieving that against a team as defensively competent as Bayern.

Add to that the fact that Jack Wilshere is out injured and Wenger has made the rather odd decision to rest Wojciech Szczesny, it does seem as if it's become Mission twice as Impossible. Although Bayern will be without Franck Ribery, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Jerome Boateng, they will still be clear favourites to progress to the quarter-finals.

But after the first leg this was never really going to be a game about qualification -- especially in the wake of Arsenal's defeat in the North London derby. Liverpool have done them a big favour by beating Spurs and it means that with ten games left to play (a very healthy 30 points), Arsenal's focus has to be well and truly on the domestic competition, not Europe.

What Wenger will be looking for on Thursday night is a performance to restore some pride and confidence. Both have been shaken in recent weeks, not just by Bayern and Spurs, but by the dismal FA Cup defeat to Blackburn. With Champions League qualification so important from a footballing and financial point of view, they need to find a spark, and quickly.

Szczesny's omission is puzzling, particularly when it's rumoured that Lukasz Fabianski will come in for his first start of the season, but the manager has to have some hope that there are players with something to prove.

Tomas Rosicky, for example, is likely to get a start in midfield and if the Czech is unhappy at his lack of playing time this season then this is the time and the place to show what he can do. The reality is that he's third in the pecking order behind Santi Cazorla and Wilshere, but with the Spaniard likely to play on the left with Podolski out, Rosicky should take the Englishman's place in midfield.

As mentioned previously, Giroud and Walcott need a goal lest the drought become biblical at exactly the wrong time of the season, but while goals would be welcome, more than anything else, Arsenal need a solid defensive display. We all know the issues, we've been over them on this blog more than once this season, but a clean sheet against a team like Bayern would be the kind of boost they need for the games to come.

There's little point in Arsenal 'going for it' and allowing themselves to be opened up easily and conceding a hatful. A defeat by more than a couple of goals would be highly destructive when there's so much football still to play this season. There's no expectation that they can win the tie (as opposed to game itself) and if I were Wenger I'd be sending out a team tasked with being as solid as possible for as long as possible.

It might not make for exciting viewing, but in the very short-term, until the end of the season, it could well be the best approach. It's not the way Arsenal usually do things, but these are difficult times and if they pulled it off it might just give them the right platform to compete properly for a top-four spot.

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