So Arsenal have been drawn against what most I believe would call the best club team in the world at present. The Champions League holders have brushed aside pretty much anyone that has crossed their path until Manchester City beat them after they had already qualified from their group.
Finishing second in our CL group was always going to see us face a team of real quality. Before the Napoli match I had been fretting about our need to take at least a draw in Italy as for once it would have been nice for us to have avoided one of the best in world football. But since our consecutive defeats at the hands of both Napoli and Manchester City I have had a change of heart. Perhaps this change of heart is linked with our results, perhaps I would be thumping my chest and screaming bring them all on had we won 1-0 in Italy and beaten City 6-3 away from home.
We have traveled to Manchester twice this season and have not preformed as we could on both occasions. In both games we had played that Manchester club at the end of a tough schedule of three difficult games in less than a week. In both games our opponents had an extra day rest and also both teams were able to rotate key personnel.
I am breaking the unwritten rule here aren't I? The unwritten rule as a football supporter. In fact there are two unwritten rules that should you break, you can be subjected to internet finger pointing.
Rule 1) You are forbidden to use fatigue as an excuse for defeat
Rule 2) Refereeing decisions should never be a reason to lose games. If a referee rules out 7 goals then you should simply up your game and score another.
You are only allowed to mention these factors if you state it before or after the following.. 'I am not making excuses for the team/result/manager etc. Hell, I've done the same myself many times.
But right now, I hold my hands up here, I am guilty. I believe that fatigue, whether that be mental or physical played it's part in the way the game was played on the weekend. It has to, whether that be for the better or worse. Football is full of variables that morph into the final score and ultimately final position at the end of the season.
If Sagna decides to play a ball down the line rather than inside to a midfielder then that is something that could change the result of a game. If a player gives the ball away all match it may have strangely ended up benefiting you if the final result is three points. You just don't know. What I do know is that many managers argue about recovery time of players and not just Arsene Wenger. *There will be times when it benefits us over our opposition. In this instance City had the fresher players and with that they had an advantage on this occasion.
I will do one of the qualification thingys here just to keep a sense of continuity. 'Fatigue was not the only reason for our defeat on the weekend' Our own errors, profligacy, Manchester City's quality and probably hundreds of additional variables ended in a 6-3 beating.
Had we held onto the 1-1 score at home against Bayern Munich and already had qualification in the bag before we got to Napoli, and Manchester City had to get a draw in Munich to qualify then we may not have seen a 6-3 defeat but hey, we could have been beaten 7-0. Who knows what would have happened.
I am drifting long way from my point here, my point is that I don't think we can cope with three fixtures in a week and we struggle to keep up that intensity and once our level drops we lose games, or drop points. So going full circle, I am pleased that we face the most difficult team in Europe today. The tie can go one of two ways.
1) We beat Bayern Munich and qualify which will give us more difficult fixtures into a congested period but we gain huge amounts of belief from doing that. Look at how that win in Germany inspired us to go on a great run last season. Would that have happened if we lost 2-0? Hard to know for sure but I'll lean towards no and probably no Champions League football. Which would have given Spurs CL football etc, etc, variables.
2) We lose and revert back to playing once a week with our key players. Look at Arsenal over the last few seasons. We start the season working hard off the ball to close down opponents, our performances in August are usually very good which builds hope and then our pressing vanishes. Our form drops, we are written off knocked out of competitions until we are left with the league. Then all of a sudden we go on winning sequences that catapult us back into the top 4.
After we lost to Bayern over two legs our work off the ball went up considerably and I don't think this is a coincidence.
We have a squad big enough to rotate Monreal, Jenks, Verm, Podolski, Rosicky and company into our FA Cup games and conserve our energy for the league fixtures.
In other words, should we suffer at the hands of Bayern, my disappointment will not reach the levels of previous seasons as long as we remain in contention for our domestic meat and vegetables.
However I am pretty sure that neither manager or players are thinking along the same lines as I am. The Champions League is a competition that the manager has wanted to win for a while and players like Arteta have spoken about their desire to win that trophy.
The Bacary Sagna situation is still up in the air. After some positive comments by Arsene last week, Bac has followed them up with more cagey utterances to the French media. Bacary has plenty to give and once again this campaign he has shown his class, consistency and professionalism. For a few months now Gooners have been shouting from the roof tops to offer Bac a new contract. I am pretty sure we would have been on the case for a while now but we do not know what the players preferences are right now. Hopefully Bac will opt to extend his deal with us and continue to be one of the best defensive right back's around should he want to dip his toe into new footballing waters then perhaps we can use this as a time to evolve and buy a right back that can make the difference in the final third given that our right back is often the spare attacking outlet.
But that is somewhat jumping a gun that I really do not need to jump. So let us wait and see what happens on that front.
*Right, a nice break before we play Chelsea with the blue chavs having to play a league cup match. For once the advantage is with us, we will see come Monday evening if a rested Arsenal is not good enough to beat the top sides. Not that beating the top sides is all you need to win the title. This excellent piece by The Beautiful Groan says it better than I could.
'till the next time.