Tuesday 20 February 2018

Win or bust for Arsenal as Wenger faces reality

Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott go through their stretches during training yesterday
Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott go through their stretches during training yesterday

Kevin Garside

The aesthete has become the great pragmatist. The ambition of Arsène Wenger in the face of Europe's most lethal force has fallen way short of winning the Champions League.

Two games into this season's competition, the goal is simply to survive.

"The obsession at the moment is to stay in it, not to win it," said Wenger, his words accurately appraising the parlous state of Arsenal's Champions League campaign.

So elegant and powerful in the Premier League after that opening weekend ambush by West Ham, yet swept aside by Europe's middling powers.

Tonight, against a Bayern Munich team with a 100pc record in the Bundesliga and Europe, Arsenal must fashion a win in the first of the back-to-back fixtures with the German side at the Emirates to have any chance of progressing.


Bayern have not conceded a goal in the Champions League and have scored eight, which puts Arsenal's task into yet sharper relief.

Wenger accepts that Arsenal have fallen short in Europe, but invites ridicule when he argues, as he did yesterday, that his team did not get the credit they deserved in scoring five at Leicester recently.

This gives you some idea of the self-serving bubble in which Wenger exists, a state of grace that continues to protect him despite the ire of critics waiting to erupt at the next defeat.

"We are always accused of something. The thing is today you are always told what you have not done. Sometimes people forget what you have done," he said. "In 2015 we are the team that has taken more points than everybody else. And we are still accused of being inconsistent."

There is no disguising the scale of tonight's demand, even Wenger accepts that.

"In Europe it's true we have been poor in our first two games. That is what we want to correct. I must say we have our backs to the wall and we play against a top team, so I can understand the scepticism of people. But we have to prove them wrong.

"You have to respect Bayern. Historically they have won the European Cup how many times? Five? And Arsenal zero. So you cannot say that historically we are at the same level as Bayern. They have done it in the past and they have the history and the knowledge.

"What we want is to get there. We look at the potential performance on the day. After that the history doesn't play the game. What will decide the game is the performance we produce. That comes from if we believe we can do it."

Which, of course, Wenger insists Arsenal do. He has seen his team rattle off four successive wins in the Premier League to sit just two points behind leaders Manchester City, including the 3-0 annihilation of Manchester United just four days after the humiliating Champions League defeat at home to Olympiakos.

That puzzling loss, plus the disappointing opening defeat in Zagreb, was explained in terms of a sub-conscious lowering of the collective guard, a loss of focus which, Wenger claims, will not be a feature against a team he classified as the best in the world.

"It is a game we want to win. We have some ground to make up in Europe, where we have not been at the requested level. The focus has been much stronger in the Premier League. We know the focus needs to be the same here," Wenger said.

"We have the belief and confidence we are doing something right. Maybe we could be suspected in the first two Champions League games of not taking the opponent seriously enough. This time that won't be a threat.

"We have to win, we know that. All English teams need to make up ground. The Premier League takes energy out of all English teams. And Bayern are the best team in the world right now. But there is no team without a weakness.

"We have played and beaten great Bayern teams at least as good as this one. We have to focus on both sides of the game, we know they like to go forward and we like to go forward. We know we are playing against a top side." (© Independent News Service)

Arsenal v Bayern Munich

Live, TV3 and BT Sport, 7.45

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