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2013/14 Season Review: Near Miss in the League, Cup Glory at Last!

With Sir Alex Ferguson retiring at the end of the 2012/13 season, it was going to be very interesting to see who was going to take over what was left of the Premier League. With Arsene Wenger taking the title of the longest serving manager in the League, there were some transitions as Manuel Pellegrini, Jose Mourinho and David Moyes all took roles in their respective clubs.

The 2013/14 season was a roller-coaster ride as it promised so much and like previous seasons, it all crumbled. But Arsenal fans can take solace in the fact that the final game of the season was rewarded with what everyone concerned with the club craved – a trophy.

In a chronological order, I present to you an entire review of the season revealing my take of the match, goal, save and player of each month from August 2013 to May 2014.

You may not agree with my pick but feel free to share yours with your comments.

Enjoy!

AUGUST

After a rather unsuccessful Emirates Cup, Arsenal began the season poorly with a home defeat to Aston Villa and all Hell broke loose. A comfortable win over Fulham was sandwiched in between a double-legged affair against Fenerbahce. Victory against the Turkish outfit guaranteed Arsenal Champions League football for hte 16th consecutive season.

August Match of the Month

Fulham 1 Arsenal 3 (Giroud, Podolski (2)): With the Gunners losing their opening Premier League encounter, it was vital for them to get back on track. An early goal for Giroud and two bullets from Podolski were enough to put Fulham to the sword. Sadly enough, Podolski tore his hamstring later in the month.

Podolski celebrating his goal against Fulham with his teammates

August Goal of the Month

Podolski against Fulham: In the midst of a fully crowded box, the German with a Thor’s Hammer of a left foot blasted a shot that breezed past Stokedale.

August Save of the Month

Wojciech Szczesny against Fenerbahce: With Fenerbahce thrashed 3-0 in Turkey, they arrived at the Emirates with literally nothing to play for. However, a moment arrived when Emmanuel Emenike bore in on goal and blasted a shot that was superbly saved by Szczesny.

August Player of the Month

Aaron Ramsey: With a good preseason under his belt, Ramsey rose to prominence and he had his scoring touch as he smashed in three goals. He also add more steel to his game making him an all-rounder.

SEPTEMBER

Arsenal began September with a sweet victory over free-spending Tottenham and the world was shocked to witness the acquisition of Mesut Ozil on transfer deadline day. The Aaron Ramsey show took center stage as he shone the brightest in the games against Sunderland, Marseille, Stoke and Swansea. The fringe players and youngsters were given a chance in the Capital One Cup encounter against West Brom but the Gunners had to rely on the lottery of penalties.

September Match of the Month

Arsenal 1 Tottenham 0 (Giroud): Despite the fact that the game didn’t have a mammoth scoreline, registering a win over AVB and his new-look squad had a nice feel about it. Besides, there was nothing better than getting some bragging rights over the old enemy.

September Goal of the Month

Giroud against Tottenham: If the build up to the goal could make a man horny, the finish by Giroud was certainly orgasmic. It was a goal that got better with each passing replay.

September Save of the Month

Szczesny against Tottenham: With Spurs trailing, they fought tooth and nail to get an equalizer but it wasn’t forthcoming. Then came a moment when Jermaine Defoe’s shot deflected Szczesny and caught him off guard, but somehow, the Pole still managed to make an unorthodox save of life.

9644365175 3131799ddb o GIF: Wojciech Szczesny makes a brilliant save to deny a deflected Jermain Defoe effort

September Player of the Month

Aaron Ramsey: With the rate at which Ramsey was scoring for fun, it was a no-brainer when he won the Barclays Premier League Player of the Month award for September.

OCTOBER

October would certainly be remembered as the month Ozil opened his goalscoring account for the club and it’s fair to say that the goal was worth the wait. Arsenal’s seven-game winning streak was halted by a resilient West Brom but the Gunners went back to winning ways with victories over Norwich and Crystal Palace. However, the month was marred by two back to back home defeats to Dortmund and Chelsea.

October Match of the Month

Arsenal 4 Norwich 1 (Ozil (2), Wilshere, Ramsey): On a fine afternoon at the Emirates, it was a midfield masterpiece that settled the proceedings to send the Gunners to the summit of the Premier League.

October Goal of the Month

Jack Wilshere against Norwich: Wilshere instigated the attack from Arsenal’s half, evaded a marker then passed the ball to Gibbs on his far left. The English fullback swiftly fed Cazorla and the diminutive magician darted inwards then teed up Giroud who in turn flicked the ball to an onrushing Wilshere. With the ball still in motion, Wilshere flicked it back to Giroud and the Frenchman returned the favor with another exquisite flick and that scintillating buildup matched the finish as Wilshere side-footed the ball past a hapless Ruddy.

Joga Bonito.

October Save of the Month

Wojciech Szczesny against Crystal Palace: With the Gunners grabbing the lead through a Mikel Arteta penalty, the captain’s red card put his team in a precarious situation. With Crystal Palace searching for a goal, Mila Jedinak blasted a sweet volley that was odds on to smash the net. Up stepped Szczesny to make a spectacular save.

October Player of the Month

Aaron Ramsey: In a month where Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud scored vital goals that aided the team’s cause, Ramsey was still the man that was making things tick and his goal against Norwich was unbelievable as he left a couple of defenders for dead before blasting the ball past Ruddy.

NOVEMBER

Traditionally, November is usually regarded as a bogey month for the Gunners but Arsene Wenger’s army swept Liverpool, Dortmund, Southampton, Marseille and Cardiff aside. The only low point of the month was losing to a piss-poor Manchester United side with a goal scored from the bloke with a little boy inside him.

November Match of the Month

Arsenal 2 Liverpool 0 (Cazorla, Ramsey): Liverpool arrived at the Emirates in a rich vein of form as the media waxed lyrical about the famous “S.A.S” combo. When they arrived at the Emirates, they were locked in a cage and the keys were thrown away while Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey showed S.A.S how goals were meant to be scored.

November Goal of the Month

Aaron Ramsey against Liverpool: The Welsh Messi waited for the ball to have a couple of bounces before he launched a surface-to-goal missile that went past Simon Mignolet before he could even attempt to reach the ball.

November Save of the Month

Wojciech Szczesny against Dortmund: The Gunners may have visited the Signal Iduna Park and may have gotten all three points but it was due to the clinical finishing of Ramsey, hard work from the lads and some excellent goalkeeping from Szczesny. His save from Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s volley was worth noting as well.

November Player of the Month

Aaron Ramsey: The red-hot Welsh goalscoring machine of the first kind blasted in four goals in the course of the month and many fans started harboring thoughts of him going all the way for the Player of the Season award if he continued in this vein, despite the fact that it was only November.

DECEMBER

Arsenal had a poor run of results in December as the month began with a win over Hull but stinging defeats to Manchester City in the Premier League and more importantly, Napoli in the Champions League, were to have detrimental effect to the team. There were also some unwanted draws at home to Chelsea and Everton with the best result coming up against West Ham, the game the Gunners lost their talisman to injury.

December Match of the Month

West Ham 1 Arsenal 3 (Walcott (2), Podolski): In a game that would be unfortunately remembered for Ramsey’s thigh injury, Arsenal had a super sub in the form of Lukas Podolski to thank as he made an immediate impact in the game to swing it into Arsenal’s favour.

Arsenal's Theo Walcott (3rd L) celebrates with team mates after scoring a goal against West Ham United during their English Premier League soccer match at the Boleyn Ground in London December 26, 2013. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett

December Goal of the Month

Theo Walcott against Manchester City: Some would say that the game against Manchester City had a “tennis scoreline” but Walcott’s second goal was perfectly placed in the top corner giving Costel Pantillimon no chance whatsoever.

December Save of the Month

Wojciech Szczesny against Newcastle: It was another game where a top-drawer save was the difference between three points and one. Tim Krul was unable to keep Giroud’s header out but Szczesny reacted superbly to save Moussa Sissoko’s goal-bound shot.

December Player of the Month

Per Mertesacker: Theo Walcott earned many plaudits for his goalscoring return on his road to full fitness but in my honest opinion, Per Mertesacker was a colossus at the back for the Gunners.

JANUARY

2014 began on a positive note with the Gunners getting a vital victory over Cardiff. More wins against Tottenham, Aston Villa, Fulham and Coventry were admirable, but the creditable draw against Southampton wasn’t bad as well.

 January Match of the Month

Arsenal 2 Tottenham 0 (Cazorla, Rosicky): Getting a chance to knock Tottenham out early in the FA Cup was a task the Gunners felt the need to oblige. Goals from Cazorla and Rosicky settled it.

January Goal of the Month

Rosicky against Tottenham: The Czech maestro capitalized on an error from Danny Rose to run the length of the pitch before chipping a hapless Hugo Lloris.

January Save of the Month

Szczesny against Southampton: Szczesny made an unbelievable save after Nacho Monreal’s ball watching allowed Gallagher to blast the ball at goal from six yards.

January Player of the Month

Santi Cazorla: The diminutive magician had a rather hot and cold campaign but he was on fire in January scoring five goals.

Arsenal vs. Fulham: Live Player Ratings from the Emirates Stadium

Oh Santi Cazorla!

FEBRUARY

As the title race reached the business end, Arsenal began the month on a high win a win against Crystal Palace but the 5-1 thrashing at Anfield was a very bitter pill to swallow. A goalless stalemate against Manchester United was followed up with some measure of revenge against Liverpool in the FA Cup. Bayern spoiled the party at the Emirates but a resounding victory over Sunderland wrapped up the month.

 February Match of the Month

Arsenal 4 Sunderland 1 (Giroud (2), Rosicky, Koscielny): With Giroud’s extra-marital issues taking center stage, he lost his place in the team to the inexperienced Yaya Sanogo in a Champions League first leg against Bayern. On his return to the first team, he bagged a brace against Sunderland while Rosicky scored a goal that was reminiscent of Wilshere’s strike in October.

February Goal of the Month

Tomas Rosicky against Sunderland: A well executed team move was deservedly rounded up by Rosicky as he latched on to Giroud’s pass to perform a delicate over Mannone.

February Save of the Month

Wojciech Szczesny against Bayern: Shortly before his sending off for a foul on light feathered Arjen Robben, Szczesny made a magnificent save from a Toni Kroos shot.

February Player of the Month

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: The Ox had suffered a knee injury in August that sidelined him for months but he picked some form in February and scored a well-taken brace against Crystal Palace.

MARCH

The horrid month of March began with a defeat to Stoke that saw the Gunners relinquish their stronghold on the Premier League. An FA Cup win over Everton was marred by being knocked out from the Champions League after the damage had been done in the first leg. A third win over Tottenham in the season was followed with a horrifying 6-0 decimation in the hands of Chelsea. Two draws followed that to crown a horrible month for the Gunners.

March Match of the Month

Tottenham 0 Arsenal 1 (Rosicky):

All it took was a brilliant Rosicky finish early on to settle the contest at White Hart Lane. Then there was time for that selfie that went viral.

March Goal of the Month

Tomas Rosicky against Tottenham: Little Mozart raced to the ball and unleashed an unstoppable volley that darted past Lloris with consummate ease.

March Save of the Month

Lukasz Fabianski against Bayern Munich: With Szczesny getting a red card in the first leg, it was a classic case of deja vu as Fabianski found himself at the Allainz Arena again serving as the custodian between the sticks. He must have been disappointed to see Bastian Schweinsteiger’s shot go in but at least he can take some solace in the fact that he stopped Thomas Muller’s penalty.

March Player of the Month

Tomas Rosicky: In a relatively poor month for the Gunners, Rosicky was one of those players that stood out from the crowd.

APRIL

Like March, April started on he wrong foot as the Gunners were swept aside be a rampant Everton and they were usurped from fourth place, albiet temporarily. From there on the Gunners recorded recorded routine wins over West Ham, Hull and Newcastle before requiring penalties to win Wigan in the FA Cup semis.

April Match of the Month

Arsenal 1 Wigan 1 (Mertesacker): With the Latics beating Manchester City, they were in giant killing mood and they were just eight minutes away from another FA Cup final. However, Per Mertesacker got the equalizer that sent his team into extra time before Fabianski’s heroics put him on the spotlight.

April Goal of the Month

Giroud against West Ham: Thomas Vermaelen launched a ball into orbit and it was controlled magnificently by Giroud before blasting the ball through the keeper’s legs.

April Save of the Month

Lukasz Fabianski against Wigan: With the Gunners relying on the lottery of a penalty shootout to get to the FA Cup final, the penalty takers did their jobs superbly and Fabianski did his.

April Player of the Month

Lukas Podolski: The German had been on the fringes but he was getting a decent run out in the team and he rewarded his manager’s faith with four goals.

MAY

Unlike the previous season where the Gunners went into the month of May looking over their backs to see Tottenham breathing down their necks, Everton’s shortcomings made the final league fixtures have a pre-season feel about them but the Gunners still beat West Brom and Norwich anyway. However, the game of the season was at Wembley and the Gunners came from two nil down to win 3-2. That’s how to win a Cup final.

May Match of the Month

Arsenal 3 Hull 2 (Cazorla, Koscielny, Ramsey): With Hull shockingly scoring two goals in the opening stages of the game, an upset looked on the cards but goals from Cazorla, Koscielny and Ramsey helped Arsenal win their first trophy in nine years. The parade of 250,000 fans showed how much the trophy meant to the fans.

May Goal of the Month

Aaron Ramsey against NorwichJust when we thought that the game was turning out into a stalemate, Giroud dinked a cross to the far post and Arsenal’s knight in shining armor, Aaron Ramsey, picked his spot and fired a sumptuous volley that gave Ruddy no chance in Hell.

DistinctGivingAmurratsnake What a hit! Aaron Ramsey scores fantastic volley for Arsenal at Norwich [GIF + Vine]

May Save of the Month

Lukasz Fabianski against Hull: Conceding those early goals must have hurt Fabianski’s confidence but as the game progressed, he asserted his dominance. He showed his good concentration levels when he dived to smother Sone Aluko’s fierce drive at goal.

May Player of the Month

Aaron Ramsey: Saved his best for last and stepped up when Arsenal needed him the most. The goal that secured the FA Cup final. Priceless.

It doesn’t get any better than that.

This was certainly a season we’ll struggle to forget. We had a near miss in the Premier League but at least, there was Cup glory at long last!

My 2012/13 End of Season Awards come up next

Sayonara

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UEFA Champions League: Bold Predictions for the UCL Semis

 

Just before the UEFA Champions League quarterfinal draws were made, I published an article on some bold predictions for the last eight and there’s nothing cooler than seeing your predictions work out. I had stated that;

  • Two Teams from the Same Nationality Would Lock Horns – Yup, there was a clash between Atletico Madrid and FC Barcelona, two teams from the same nation. 
  • The Ibrahimovic – C. Ronaldo – Diego Costa Golazo Fest Would Continue – Cristiano Ronaldo got in on the scoring act but injuries plighted Zlatan and Diego Costa’s chances of getting on the score sheet.
  • Atletico Madrid Would Cruise to the Semifinals – The Red and White Dark Horses surprised everyone in the football world with a two-legged victory over juggernauts, Barcelona, but I wasn’t perturbed cuz’ I said so. 
  • A ‘Big’ Team Would be Dumped Out - If FC Barcelona is your definition of “big”, then you’re correct. :D
  • End of the Line for Manchester United – Of course, they never stood a chance with the defending champions.

The draws for the semifinals coming up soon and the road to Lisbon is getting closer with each passing game. Gooner Daily has decided to take a tentacle from Paul the Octopus to make a couple of predictions ahead of the next phase of Europe’s elite football competition.

Atletico’s Profligacy Will Cost Them a Place in the Finals

David Villa smashed three shots against the woodwork when he played his former employers

In the absence of a clinical forward like Diego Costa through injury, Atletico Madrid needed their next experienced forward, David Villa, to step up in his absence. David Villa had a good game by his standards but he left his shooting boots at home as he missed a hat-trick of chances that smashed the woodwork.

As the game progressed, Atletico found more loopholes in the Barcelona defense but their poor finishing coupled with Barca’s toothlessness in front of goal saw them book a place in the last four. Against vastly experienced sides like Chelsea, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, Atletico’s naivety in front of goal could be exposed and they would be brushed aside.

Notwithstanding, they have been the team of the tournament thus far.

Jose Mourinho and his Goons Would Progress to the Finals

As we all know, Jose Mourinho is one hell of a charismatic character and while he can be a massive pain in the ass sometimes, you can’t take nothing away from his tactical acumen.

He had noticed how Eden Hazard had been struggling on the wings right from the kickoff but he took a bold step to replace him in a game of that magnitude with Andre Schurrle. David Moyes on the other hand, saw that Wayne Rooney was clearly struggling at the Allianz Arena but Javier Hernandez and Adnan Januzaj came on for other players while Shrek remained on the pitch.

 

Super Sub

 

I’m not here to laud Mourinho for his tactics because PSG also had chances to kill the game off and they weren’t taken but Mourinho is a coach that knows how to adapt to different game plans and when his team gets drawn against either Bayern, Real Madrid or Atletico, Mourinho would have the edge.

As expected, he would probably park a large bus away then balance the scoreline at home. Bleeeeeeh

There Would be Penalty Shootouts in One of the Fixtures

At the semifinal stage, there would be some tactical battles on and off the pitch. Teams would take cautious approaches over the course of two legs and I’m confident that there would be a fixture that would be settled by the lottery of a penalty shootout.

Let’s just hope that Sergio Ramos won’t be available to shoot another ball that would be launched into orbit if Real Madrid turns out to be among the teams playing in the shootout.

Do you agree with these predictions? Feel free to share yours with your comments.

Sayonara

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Bold Predictions for the Champions League Quarterfinals

image

With the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 completed, eight teams have advanced to the quarterfinals while eight other teams have been sent packing and it’s worth noting that ALL the teams that topped their respective groups are currently in the last eight, which goes to say that earning a quarterfinal berth is half secured when you top your group because you’d a ‘favorable’ draw. Note to Arsenal.

However, with the draws for the Quarterfinals coming up soon, Gooner Daily has decided to take a tentacle from Paul the Octopus to make a couple of predictions ahead of the next phase of Europe’s elite football competition.

Two Teams from the Same Nationality Would Lock Horns

The quarterfinals would see two teams representing England, two representing Germany, three from Spain and one from France. Gooner Daily believes that UEFA, in their infinite wisdom, would pair two clubs from the same nation together.

Go get ready to expect a Manchester United vs. Chelsea clash, an El Clasico, Madrid Derby or Atletico vs. Barcelona or maybe, a repeat of last season’s final between Bayern and Dortmund.

The Ibrahimovic – C. Ronaldo – Diego Costa Golazo Fest Would Continue

Irrespective of who Paris St. Germain, Real Madrid or Atletico Madrid is going to play, expect another bout of goalscoring display from three of the finest forwards in this season’s competition, the mercurial Swede, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Brazilian-turned-Spanish sensation, Diego Costa and the world’s best footballer, Cristiano Ronaldo.

I would be scared if I’m coming up against any of these forwards.

Atletico Madrid Would Cruise to the Semifinals

This season’s dark horses have been Diego Simeone’s Atletico. Their efforts in the group stages probably went unnoticed as they easily topped the group that had Zenit St. Petersburg, FC Porto and Austria Vienna. When they took a slender 1-0 lead at San Siro in the first knockout round, the football world was stunned to how they decimated their illustrious Milan opponents in the second leg.

With Atletico in the quarterfinals, many so-called ‘big teams’ would be licking their lips at the prospect of getting a draw against them. They are in for a surprise because Gooner Daily strongly believes that this side would cruise to the semis.

A ‘Big’ Team Would be Dumped Out

The Champions League, like every other football competition, has its own twists and turns. I expect the quarterfinals to spring up a big surprise for neutral football lovers, so I expect a big team, that is expected to go as far as winning the competition, to be dumped out acrimoniously.

Teams like Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Barcelona are the forerunners to go all the way to the final. Call me a prophet of doom if you must, but Gooner Daily believes that one of these so-called big sides would be heading towards the exit door, sooner rather than later.

End of the Line for Manchester United

David Moyes and his Manchester United side have been all about breaking records this season and his side was the only team that managed to win their group and suffer a defeat in their first leg encounter.

However, the former Gunner with the little boy inside him inspired his team with a scintillating hat-trick, only to suffer an injury late in the game.

Manchester United’s 3-0 win over Olympiakos may have guaranteed them a place in the last eight but judging from their shambolic performances this season and the quality of opposition at this stage of the competition, Gooner Daily believes that it’s the end of the line for the Old Trafford-based outfit.

Do you agree with these predictions? Feel free to share yours with your comments.

Sayonara

Bayern 1 Arsenal 1: At Least, They Gave Their All…

Allianz Arena (Champions League)

Bayern: Schweinsteiger 54′ – Arsenal: Podolski 57′

Player Ratings via Telegraph – Match HighlightsWenger’s Press Conference

 

It was always going to be like an uphill task but with the Gunners having nothing to lose, Arsene Wenger fielded what proved to be a very strong attacking side with the intent of springing a surprise at the home of the world and European champions. With Wojciech Szczesny suspended, Lukasz Fabianski deputized in goal but injuries to Kieran Gibbs and Nacho Monreal saw the captain retain his place in the first team, albeit in the left back position. Elsewhere, Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud returned to the starting XI as well.

According to the commentators, the Norwegian referee had overseen two victories for English sides on German soil as he was the match official in Chelsea’s away win at Schalke and Manchester United’s pummeling of Bayer Leverkusen.

Arsenal was quick out of the blocks with the Ox running at the Bayern defense and it took a cynical challenge from Dante to stop the raging Ox in his tracks. Podolski almost teed up Giroud with a cross but it was blocked. The resulting corner from Santi Cazorla was piss poor and Bayern used it as an opportunity to instigate a counter attacking move with saw David Alaba and Franck Ribery combine before his cross was fired over by Arjen Robben.

Thiago Alcantara lofted a free kick that was blasted in by Javi Martinez but the linesman’s flag spared Arsenal’s blushes. Bayern continued to launch waves of attacks with Alaba lashing a shot wide with his weaker right foot and shortly afterwards, Mario Mandzukic headed a cross over the bar.

At the start of the second half, Arsenal replaced the ineffectual Mesut Ozil with Tomas Rosicky. Ozil attempted only 12 passes in the first half and had a surprising 58% accuracy. His passing stats only bettered Fabianski’s 48% passing accuracy which was evidenced by his poor distribution all game long.

Mikel Arteta was lucky to remain on the pitch after he had clattered Ribery despite walking on thin ice from the yellow he received in the first half. Robben managed to get the better of Thomas Vermaelen but he attempted a blatant dive much to the disgust of everyone connected with Arsenal. Bayern’s penalty appeals fell on deaf ears as the ref signaled for the bald Dutch diver to get back up on his feet.

With Arsenal failing to take the initiative, Bayern broke the deadlock when Ribery threaded a neat through ball to an unmarked Bastian Schweinsteiger that caught Fabianski on his blind side. This goal drove the final nail in Arsenal’s qualification coffin.

Instead of sulking and putting their heads down for losing 3 – 0 on aggregate, the Gunners came firing on all cylinders with a swift attack as Podolski attempted a one-two with Giroud but the French striker’s return pass fell to Philip Lahm’s path. With Podolski determined to get the ball, he gave Lahm a nudge that made the full-back hit the deck like a sack of potatoes. After retrieving the ball in what seemed to be an impossible angle, Podolski blasted a thunderous shot with that hammer of his, leaving Manuel Neuer no chance in Hell.

The goal instilled some confidence into the away team and continued an onslaught in their bid to make their own version of history. Podolski had a cross blocked by Alaba but it fell to the Ox’s path but his tame shot was saved by Neuer. The German goalie received a simple back pass and his over-confidence made him concede possession immediately to the Gunners but Rosicky failed to capitalize on his error.

The Ox lost the ball in Arsenal’s danger area and after some neat passing play, Thiago fed an unmarked Mandzukic but his poor control allowed Fabianski to smother the ball. Robben was allowed to make a run and was allowed a shot at goal but Fabianski made another good save. With the Ox pulling up, he was replaced by Mathieu Flamini and shortly after that Serge Gnabry replaced Arteta that was one card away from making things very difficult for his team.

Cazorla sighted Gnabry on Alaba’s blind side and he dinked a ball for the young German but the Austrian was aware of the danger and he nodded the ball to safety. Podolski teed up Gnabry but the young bloke skied his effort. Late on, Robben was at it again as he was bundled over by Koscielny leaving the ref no choice but to point to the spot. Thomas Muller fired the ball through the middle but Fabianski’s trailing leg blocked the ball on the line.

With Muller determined to score a rebound, Fabianski showed off his bravery to push the ball away before he was tackled by the striker. That turned out to be the last noteworthy incident of the game and Arsenal’s Champions League adventure had ended on the knockout stage for the fourth season in a row.

All this wouldn’t have happened if the Gunners topped their group but there’s no point crying over spilled milk.

At least, they gave their all.

Sayonara.

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Bayern Preview: One of Those European Nights

It’s fair to say that we have seen a different Arsene Wenger this season. While playing his usually breathtaking football with intricate passing and technique at its peak, Wenger has shown a different perspective this season with some games were he goes all out to defend a lead and win ugly – a trait not usually characterised with Arsenal. There was even a game when the Gunners tore a script from the Stoke booklet to score three goals against the Potters through set pieces.

I’ve also been surprised to know that Wenger has learned a lot from his mistakes in the past and he has passed on that mentality to his players. There have been countless seasons when Wenger was faced with the dilemma of a domestic Cup fixture just before a European knockout clash and he’d inexplicably choose to ‘rest’ some his first team lads with half an eye on the European encounter.

The Gunners failed to top what proved to be a tough group and their rewards for that was a double date with arguably the best team in the world. With the Bayern clash around the corner, Wenger picked a strong team in the FA Cup fifth round clash with Liverpool and his team were victorious on the day, giving themselves a measure of revenge for the spanking they had received from the same club a week earlier. They went on to lose to Bayern in a game marred by Mesut Ozil’s missed spot kick and Wojciech Szczesny’s red card.

Last weekend, the Gunners had a classic case of deja vu as they faced another Merseyside opponent in the FA Cup before the daunting second leg against Bayern. Wenger was spot on with his selection, and even better with his substitutions during the game as the Gunners booked a semifinal berth against Wigan at Wembley.

With the FA Cup done and dusted till April at least, Arsene Wenger and his hordes are going to the Allianz Arena to play a Bayern Munich side in a rich vein of form and they are firing on all cylinders in the Bundesliga, creating records on the go. The Gunners have already been written off by journos, pundits and nay sayers. ‘A two nil loss at home against a side like Bayern is a step too far’, they say.

But I love these sort of odds. Nothing to lose and nothing to play for but pride.

Funnily enough, the Gunners were in the same exact situation last season after losing 3-1 at home to ‘almighty’ Bayern. How did they respond? A spirited away performance that saw the German juggernauts resort to time wasting to save their bacons as the Gunners ran the show in Munich. Unfortunately, the 2-0 victory wasn’t enough for qualification but that win was a catalyst in the Gunners surge for a fourth place finish as they went on to claim eight victories in 10 games.

Some people say that ‘lightning can’t strike twice’ but football footballers should look at the underdogs, Wigan Athletic, that beat the overwhelming favorites, Manchester City, in the same competition. I can bet that Zeus sent the same thunderbolt twice.

I’m not taking anything from Bayern – they have been awesome this season and the prospect of playing them sends chills down the spines of the opposition players. But at the end of the day, it still boils down to what happens after 90 minutes.

To team news, Lukasz Fabianski is about to play back to back games for quite some time with Szczesny’s suspension in the first leg. There will be an alteration in the defense after the devastating news that Kieran Gibbs won’t be available for this clash. I don’t want to fathom the prospect of playing Nacho Monreal to face the red-hot Arjen Robben so I’m hopeful that Wenger would deploy the Verminator on that position while Mertesielny continues in the heart of the defense.

In midfield, Mikel Arteta has served his suspension and he will be available for selection alongside the Flanimal. This game would be an interesting one for Mesut Ozil and he would want to kill the ghosts that haunted him against Bayern a fortnight ago. In attack, I expect Santi Cazorla and the Ox to maraud the flanks but the major change would be the return of Olivier Giroud to his rightful place ahead of Yaya Sanogo.

I trust my club and I believe this is gonna be one hell of a game. However, I take solace in the mere fact that my team has performed admirably in some European grounds like San Siro, Santiago Bernabeu, Signal Iduna Park and most recently, the feared Allianz Arena.

Let’s just hope that it would be one of those European Nights.

Sayonara.

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