Following the defeat to Blackburn this weekend, and considering Bayern Munich’s form, it seems like our upcoming Champions League showdown against the German heavyweights is a foregone conclusion. To put it simply, no-one is giving Arsenal a chance, including many of our own fans.
Ironically enough, the last time I remember feeling like this was in 2006 just before we played Real Madrid at the Bernabeu. On the Sunday before the game, I watched Arsenal put in a dismal performance at Anfield, losing 1-0 to a late strike. In a cruel twist of fate, Skysports were showing that weekends Real Madrid match directly after our game, so I was still in the pub to watch Real’s Galacticos go 4-0 up within the first 10 minutes of their game.
It was David vs Goliath, and no-one gave Arsenal a hope in hell of getting a result at the Bernabeu. The rest is history as Arsenal became the first British team to ever win away in Madrid, and we conquered all before us en-route to the final.
It would be a minor miracle if we could repeat the outcome of that tie over the two legs against Munich. Yet, despite being fearful of the damage they could inflict upon Arsenal, I can’t wait for the matches vs Munich. These are the games we all look forward to, and no matter where the current team are, if you can’t get excited for the Champions League knock-out stages then you might as well follow a different sport.
I’m always curious as to how Arsenal are perceived on the continent, and how our rivals from abroad view us as a club. So I recently sought out the excellent @germangunners, who is not only a native German, but a big Arsenal fan too. We discussed several topics, including all things Munich, the German ‘perception’ of Arsenal, THAT Schalke match, Mario Goetze, and whether German Jurgen Klopp could be the man to replace Arsene Wenger at Arsenal.
My questions are in bold:
Firstly, I’ve always been interested in how Arsenal are viewed in different countries. I lived in Italy throughout 2009, and even though we reached the semi-finals of the Champions League that year, I got the distinct impression that Arsenal are viewed as a respected European mainstay, but little more than that. Obviously as an Arsenal fan you pay more attention to Arsenal and how they are viewed across the continent, but what do you feel is the general view of Arsenal from a German perspective?
Arsenal has always been a Club which has been closely watched all over Germany as they are one of the “classic” top 4. But your impression is right regarding its status. Arsenal has been part of the Champions League for more than ten seasons now, but the teams that come up first when asked about Premier League are United and Chelsea. That has changed a bit over the years. Around 2006 Arsenal has always been one of the favourites to win the Champions League and they were well known for their beautiful approach of the game. But in recent years the first thing that pops up is: “Oh didn’t they sell their best player in summer?”
Arsenal are no longer seen as a threat in the knock out stages. The respect is still there as Arsenal is a big club. But the “fear factor” we once had with players such as Henry, Pires, Viera etc. is long gone. Of course the focus has shifted back to Arsenal’s day to day results due to a German revolution within the club. As the interest has risen after the Mertesacker deal it has become huge after Poldi joined last summer. Nearly every result is commentated in several sports magazines and shows due to the fact that German media has a detailed look on German players in foreign leagues. It’s the same with Khedira and Özil at Real.
But as German Arsenal supporter travelling to London a lot and having experienced a lot positive feedback to my blog form all over Germany I can fairly say that Arsenal is a club every kid in Germany knows about. If we could manage to get back to a top competitive level we could easily get back to our 2006 status.
Bayern Munich are clearly favourites for this tie, is there a tangible sense of expectation throughout Germany that they will progress? Would it be a huge upset if Arsenal were to go through?
Munich are clear favourites to go through and there’s no doubt in Germany that they will go through. Munich is in superb form at the moment and Arsenal have been classified as a very good and doable draw by Munich and media representatives. That in mind, if Arsenal progress it would be a massive disappointment from a German perspective as Munich has in mind to compete with clubs such as Barcelona, Real or United for this years Champions League trophy. In their eyes Arsenal is just a stop on their way to Wembley. It’s cruel but simple.
I imagine in the build up to the game there will be a lot of talk in the media about Lukas Podolski returning to face his former club. Over here the perception is that he failed at Bayern, that he couldn’t take the pressure and was far more comfortable at his home town club Koln – is this an accurate reflection?
The focus will be on Lukas Podolski that’s for sure. He played for Munich and wasn’t as successful as all hoped he would be. But the situation is a bit more complex. Podolski may not have fulfilled Munich’s expectations but you have to take into account that he was still very young when he joined the German champions. The pressure was immense and he never really played at such a high level before. Combined with an excellent Munich squad at that time it got even harder to get into the first team. Podolski never really coped well with the sudden situation of being at a big club. It was never down to his qualities on the pitch. He simply wasn’t mature enough personally.
To say he failed is a bit harsh. He learned a lot during his years at Munich which on the long run made him the player he is now. He got back to Cologne and started to take responsibility on and off the pitch. He learned to cope with fact that he is the one who has to lead a team; Qualities Arsenal benefit from today.
In England we’re not used to seeing many of our national stars playing abroad. The vast majority of players representing the England national team over the last twenty years have played their club football in England. In Germany this isn’t the case, and with reference to Arsenal, is much there much awareness about how Podolksi and Mertesacker are performing, and how have the German public and media followed and analysed their time in England?
As I mentioned before Mertesacker and Podolski are watched closely by German media week in week out. As you said we do have many internationals who play abroad such as Klose, Özil, Khedira. Germans are obsessed with football and everyone wants to be totally informed about how all the players are doing in their league, home or abroad. Arsenals results can be found in nearly every sports section in Germany and we keep a close look on how the perform. The Mertesacker critics have been a point of discussion recently with the result that he’s not the only one to blame for defensive mistakes, and that he is the rock in defence most of the time. Poldi’s performances have been a surprise to some as they didn’t expect him to be so successful straight away. But with goals and match winning performances all season the critics are very positive. Sadly he couldn’t add some good performances in the national team. But that’s basically down to the fact that he’s not used as effective as in the Arsenal side. But playing in London has told him that he has to wait for his chance, which he does without moaning.
What was the reaction to Schalke winning at Arsenal earlier this season? They were the first foreign side to win at Arsenal in the group stages in nearly a decade. Arsenal were truly woeful that night, and I imagine that, for a lot of German football fans, that may have shaped their perception of Arsenal this season. How was that match reported upon?
The performance that night was really embarrassing and at the same time took some of Schalke’s glory. Of course it was noticed that Schalke won at a ground where no foreign side had won for years. That was a massive achievement, combined with the fact that they won the group ahead of Arsenal, which no one expected. But from that time on the only way for Schalke was down. They already had internal problems at that time including their former coach Stevens, contract extensions (Holtby, Huntelaar) etc. So most of the discussion was based on that, rather than the massive win at the Emirates. But today’s expectations for the Munich game are mostly based on that nights win. If Schalke can do it, Bayern does it easily.
The Bundesliga is enjoying a great renaissance at the moment, with Bayern at the forefront having reached two Champions League finals in the last three years. The German national team is also receiving much praise for having a young, dynamic squad. What do you believe is the main reason for German football’s current re-emergence?
The quality has always been good. Dortmund won the Champions League in 1997 and Munich in 2000. The dip between 2000 and now hasn’t been due to lack of quality in my opinion. Munich could have easily won both of their finals. The fact that the Bundesliga is back on everyone’s radar is the young dynamic style it embodies thanks to teams such as Dortmund and the national team. The Bundesliga benefits from seasons of excellent work in the youth department. It was a section that has been treated with minor interest which lead to the necessity to buy expensive abroad. Teams with less money such as Dortmund (they nearly went bankrupt in 2004) had to focus on young German talent and they were rewarded for that. Other teams did that as well. Look at Mainz for example. And even Bayern have a core of home grown players. Schweinsteiger, Lahm, Badstuber, Alaba were all part of Munich’s youth team.
English fans saw Borussia Dortmund quite comprehensively outplay Manchester City twice earlier in the season, in addition to overcoming Real Madrid. As Arsenal fans we are often linked with Mario Goetze, yet everytime I’ve watched him play, he’s seemed to be quite subdued. Is he as good as the media make out, or is it still unfulfilled potential? Is he worth £30million?
As I live close to Dortmund and it’s my local club I have watched Götze several times and I can tell you he’s worth 30 Mill. Of course he is still young and can develop to be an even better player in the future. Özil was as well and look which level he has reached now. But the question is where will he play by then. If you want to secure the service of such a talented, and in my eyes, magnificent player you have to invest. That’s how football works nowadays. He would be a perfect fit for Arsenal. He’s skilful and has a perfect vision for the game. He can outplay a defence in heartbeat and put strikers in positions where even Chamakh wouldn’t miss. If I had to decide I would drive him to London myself.
Another face at Dortmund who is frequently talked about in relation to Arsenal is Jurgen Klopp. There are distinct similarities between him and Arsene Wenger in their similar approach to developing young players, and also that they both manage football clubs with huge fanbases but with less financial capabilities than their main rivals. Do you believe that Klopp could realistically replace Wenger at Arsenal or do you think he’ll be courted by Madrid, Manchester City, or a club that offers greater financial resources than Arsenal?
I think he could replace Wenger but am convinced that he won’t in the near future, although he would fit in perfectly. That assumption is not based on other teams chasing him. He’s not after money and he’s not a coach made for Chelsea or City. He needs and expects a quiet environment where he can work on his philosophy of football without being chased by the likes of Abramovich or Monseur all the time. Klopp just signed a contract extension which will keep him at Dortmund for years to come. Klopp will honour his contract as Dortmund gave him the chance to become what he is now, coaching a second division and later relegation threatened Mainz before. So do yourself a favour and look elsewhere.
Returning to the match, most Arsenal fans are well aware of the obvious talents of players like Ribery, Muller and Robben, but are there any players in the Bayern team that we might not have heard of that pose a threat?
Munich is a team of superstars so you probably will have heard of all of them. We might have a deeper look in midfield and attack. The heart of Munich’s midfield is Schweinsteiger. With last summer’s transfer Martinez, he got a defensive minded midfielder at his side which helps him to get forward. Ribery and Müller add to that. Robben is a bit out of favour at the moment but having a player of his quality on the bench makes them even better.
You also might take a closer look at Toni Kroos. A young midfielder who has worked his way into Munich’s and Germany’s starting eleven over the last two years. He is skilful and has a deadly pass. He is a kind of a Schweinsteiger type of player, but a bit more elegant. In attack we need to take care of Gomez, Mancukic and Shaquiri. Gomez and Mancukic are great finishers with Shaquiri being a threat on the flanks. With the usually offensive Lahm in defence, our wingers need to be up for it to keep him quiet. But Lahm is not the only defender who can cause trouble. In David Alaba, Munich has another offensive minded defender who’s good at crossing. All in all quality in every department.
Lastly, Bayern Munich are in truly swashbuckling form at the moment, dismissing all that come before them. How do you think the tie will play out over two legs?
Munich’s recent form is indeed worrying. I think the tie at the Emirates will be decisive. Will Arsenal manage to get a good result which includes not receiving an away goal? Than we might have a chance to go through with a good counter attack tactic in Munich and a Theo goal that finishes it like Cesc did in Milan once. Realistically I would put my money on a 2:2 draw or close win at the Emirates and a 3:1 defeat at the Allianz Arena. But that’s just my rational prediction. My heart feels 1:0 at the Emirates and 1:1 in Munich.
That in mind Come on you Gunners!
So there you have it. It appears our German counterparts are just as convinced that Bayern will progress as everyone else. Maybe it will suit Arsenal being the heavy underdogs, and as this weekend proved, it’s hardly like we thrive off being the overwhelming favourites. It’s a massive game, the world will be watching.
Many thanks to @germangunners. For all those fans travelling to Munich, his blog www.germangunners.blogspot.com has an all English Munich travel guide which will make your trip to Munich easier to navigate.
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