So much for that “SAS” business. Effectively turned into “NIL”, Arsenal put the combination of Suarez and Sturridge in their back pocket and won Saturday’s game 2-0: my favorite scoreline to win against Liverpool with. Five points clear at the beginning of November, and with Giroud still walking despite my certainty he’d get injured by Oct 31st, things are looking very nice for the Gunners.
Wednesday sees the squad travel to Dortmund to play the second of our two group stage games against BVB. While the first game against them was certainly a test, playing at Signal Iduna Park is an entirely different prospect. If you think the BVB traveling support is intense, wait until you see an entire stadium full of like-minded fans. The Bundesliga is probably the best venue in Europe for atmosphere, and on those famous Champions League nights the locals give it their all – having set the bar with an already impressive display from 2011’s home game against us.
Arsenal will need to be cognizant of a few points on Wednesday. Firstly, Lewandowski is going to batter and bully the backline. He’s a fantastic, physical centre-forward; the kind of “classic no. 9” that’s disappearing in the era of the “false 9”. In the first fixture he tormented Koscielny and Mertesacker, neither of whom got the support they wanted from the ref; more of the same should be expected and Mertescielny will need to be ready for a 90-minute battle.
Secondly, Arsenal needs to maintain self-belief and confidence. I’ve spoken before about Arsenal having a bit of an “inferiority complex” in the big games. It persists because we’ve continued to lose these hyped-up matches. I think this team is ready to turn a corner – we have winners, we are playing as good as anyone, we are the best in Britain right now. But the team needs to believe in that and not shy away from playing their brand of football. In the past, as in the earlier game against BVB, Arsenal tend to hesitate and fail to assert themselves early on. This is contrary to what has encouraged our fine form of late: a flying start to the game where we dictate the tempo, keep possession, and often score in the first half-hour.
I look to Bayern Munich last year as a case study. The size of the occasion got to us and we lost at home 3-1 in the first leg, all-but-defeated in the tie in the eyes of most. We went to the Allianz with nothing to lose and made Bayern look poor in a 2-0 win on their patch. I think many Munich fans would tell you that was the most comprehensive loss they had in their otherwise dominant, treble-winning season. That quality is embedded in some of the Arsenal teams we’ve fielded in the last few years but it only seems to appear when the team doesn’t have a ‘big game complex’. We just need that one statement victory to really get the team going. Liverpool was a good win, and an important one, but it’s still not in the echelon of what we need. A full three-points in Dortmund, against the 2013 CL Runners-Up, would be a massive encouragement to the team and a reminder of “yes, you are that good”.
Regardless of the outcome on Wednesday there’s arguably a more important fixture on Sunday: ManU. Moyes’ side has struggled so far but Arsenal will represent an opportunity to state their own intentions. I’m sure the likes of Rooney, RVP, Evra and the rest of those twats think they’re better than the current league leaders and will be primed to prove it. Many pundits STILL consider ManU a bigger “title contender” than Arsenal, despite the 8 point gap between the teams right now. There are huge confidence implications in this game on both sides. I’d hazard a suggestion that it’s the most meaningful game between the two teams since their Champions League clash in 2009, though I’ve probably forgotten some pretty pivotal games in that span. Nevertheless it’s one to look forward to and will be a major talking point amongst pundits both before and after the final whistle.
Fascinating week to come, my fellow (Canadian) Gunners. Absolutely can’t wait.