One of the big tasks of a manager is to keep his players in the buoyant mood, either by satisfying their salary demand, creating a team of champion-calibre, or offering the player an important role in the team. Having failed to win a trophy for long and losing key players in successive offseasons, Arsene Wenger is trying hard to hold on to his key players as well as to lure big names. However, he may have tried a bit too hard this time.
Theo Walcott’s football talents are well recognised across the country. He has been a nightmare for fullbacks with his daring and direct approach. Being still a very young player, Walcott is looking for a breakthrough in his career. Thierry Henry, one of the legends in Arsenal, is the example Walcott wants to follow – a transition from the flanks to a central role.
The contract stalemate was followed by a handful of goals from the English international. Whether Wenger had been convinced by Walcott’s ability, he obviously promised the youngster more opportunities to play as a centre forward and successfully convinced him to ink the contract.
Walcott’s off-the-ball movement and his enormous speed can cause chaos between central defenders. This was exactly the game plan of Arsene Wenger, facing Van Buyten and Dante of Bayern Munich. Nevertheless, this may be an over-ambitious game plan. Clearly, Theo Walcott is yet to be a world-class striker who could single-handedly win a match for Arsenal (thinking of Van Persie, right?).
Knowing that he would be outmuscled, Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere had actively attempted to put more numbers up front to create space for Theo Walcott. It was not as straightforward as they thought, though, because of the high discipline of the German defence, and also when Javi Martinez and Bastian Schweinsteiger sat very deep in its own half.
While they failed to penetrate Bayern’s backline, they could not find a comfortable zone in their own half as well. Thomas Muller, Toni Kroos and Franck Ribery worked their socks off to limit the space Mikel Arteta and Jack Wilshere could enjoy. This was also how they got their first goal. Despite the brilliant finish by Toni Kroos, Bayern Munich would not have created the chance if Arsenal had not given away the ball cheaply.
There was a genuine reason that Bayern Munich was confident to sit deep — Mario Mandzukic. A man of considerable size but high football intelligence, the Croatian used his strong body, clever runs and decent footwork to hold off defenders and allow teammates arriving late to support. His goal, Bayern’s third of the match, was the classic example. Mandzukic fought off Koscielny for a long ball, laid it off to a teammate and eventually scored from Phillip Lahm’s cross.
In contrast, Arsenal operated with the lack of physicality which limited the effectiveness. When they found the way to create some rare threats, Sagna and Podolski could never find a teammate in the box. In fact, Arsenal’s best chance in the match came when Oliver Giroud was introduced and Walcott returned on the right flank, challenging potentially the weakest link of Bayern’s defence, David Alaba.
Now they need a 3-0 or better victory at Munich to turn their fortune around. Chelsea had done the magic last year against the less experienced Napoli, but it is very unlikely Bayern Munich would collapse completely in the second leg to give away their place in quarter final. It looks as if another title opportunity is gone, two in a roll in the space of four days. The media can have another go to irritate Arsene Wenger, but Arsenal fans seem destined to endure another heart-breaking season.