Defeat for Arsenal at the weekend deprived the Gunners from a chance at regaining top spot in the Premier League. But a failure to win tonight would see them suffer a much worse fate.
If Arsenal don’t win tonight, no matter what happens over the next few weeks, Arsene Wenger’s side will be out of the Champions League at the group stage for the first time since 1999-2000.
So, even a win tonight wouldn’t guarantee that Arsenal’s Champions League campaign would stay alive until the last game of the group stages. Even if Arsenal thrash Dinamo Zagreb so badly that they cry for their mothers after 60 minutes, Arsenal would still crash out with a game still left to play if Olympiakos can manage an unlikely point away to Bayern Munich. Even two wins in the final two games with results everywhere else going their way wouldn’t guarantee progression if they can’t beat Olympiakos by two goals in Greece on the final match day.
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So despite Arsenal’s great work in dispatching Pep Guardiola’s side so well at the Emirates, Arsenal’s tough situation comes from their two hugely disappointing defeats in the first two Champions League match days. Even if they rolled over for Bayern in Munich, it’s the first two games they have to rue. That’s what could very easily come back to haunt them over the next few weeks.
But yet there’s still a possibility of a grand victory, there’s still a possibility of a stirring comeback.
Like Manchester City last season, when all seemed lost, they managed to pull a rabbit out of a hat by beating Bayern Munich and Roma to progress to the knockout stage… where they were soundly beaten by a Barcelona side who were so obviously superior by a vast magnitude.
And that’s what Arsenal need to be hoping for now. Surely their task is much easier than City’s last season. They have to beat Zagreb tonight at home – surely something they’re expected to do anyway – and then go to Greece and beat another European minnow by a two goal margin. That shouldn’t be beyond the reach of a team looking to be Premier League champions this season.
The only complication is whether or not Olympiakos get a point against Bayern Munich. Last season, City were left sweating on whether or not CSKA Moscow could get a result at the Allianz Arena on the final day. Had Moscow managed a point, City would have crashed out too. Instead Bayern won 3-0.
Surely relying on Bayern Munich to beat Olympiakos at home is as safe a bet as you’re likely to get in world football? If that’s the game you’re sweating on to win the big bucks on your acca, you’re laughing all the way to the bank!
The bigger problem, though, is one we should still be talking about even if Arsenal do qualify. And it leads into a much bigger problem for the English game: just how did Arsenal let this happen?
Just how did Arsenal find themselves in this position? Just how did Arsenal mess up possibly this season’s easiest Champions League group?
Bayern are clearly one of the toughest opponents Arsenal could have drawn. But the other two teams should have been beaten home and away by Arsenal. And perhaps they would have been beaten by Arsenal, had Wenger taken them seriously.
Playing Ospina instead of Cech in the first two games was a nice gesture towards the second choice keeper who lost his number one spot over the summer, despite not doing a whole lot wrong. But that just shows that Cech is the better goalkeeper. He has more quality. Why would you risk Champions League qualification by fielding less quality, even if it was a noble act?
Noble but naive. You could write that on Wenger’s tombstone.
Now is the time for the fightback, and when you’re fighting for your life nobility goes out of the window. They need to win, and it doesn’t matter about style. Sometimes in the Champions League Arsenal are in a position to fight the good fight and now worry about losing it, but not tonight.
Even if Arsenal go out tonight of the Champions League tonight, they have to go out because Olympiakos get a point, not because they couldn’t beat Zagreb. Tonight is about showing the fight they so disappointingly lacked in the first two games of the campaign and even in the Allianz – losing there isn’t shameful, but losing so heavily is.
If they go out with a whimper tonight, that soft touch won’t bode well for their Premier League title ambitions.