As Arsenal prepare to take on last year’s finalists Bayern Munich in the last 16 of the Champions League, few, if any, are giving them a prayer.
What hope have an Arsenal side who have struggled for consistency all season, had one of the leakiest defences in the Premier League of late and already lost to the likes of Norwich and Swansea this term got against the mighty Bayern Munich?
A Bayern Munich side that are tearing the Bundesliga to shreds this season, that are 12 points clear at the top of the table, won 16 out of their 20 games, lost just one, while conceding just seven goals.
Not much of a chance.
But maybe, just maybe there is a way past for the Gunners…
The Chelsea effect
What Chelsea did in the Champions League last season gives hope to every side still left in the competition this year. They proved that if you have got a game plan and you stick to it, you can see off the world’s best.
Nobody gave the Blues a chance coming up against Barcelona and then Bayern Munich, but, by defending for their lives, frustrating the opposition and having a monster of a target man up the other end in Didier Drogba, all while riding a lot of luck, they showed that the impossible is possible.
And remember this was a Chelsea side in crisis, a side that ended up finishing sixth in the league.
Yes, Arsenal have a lot of work to do on tightening up their defence between now and 19 February, and yes, if they were really to do it the "Chelsea way" then Olivier Giroud may still need to develop just a little more to carry the load "Drogba style."
But, if they were able to squeeze past Bayern, the confidence that would breed would do wonders in sustaining their challenge for the trophy with the big ears.
Just look at how far Chelsea came from that last 16 first-leg defeat at Napoli.
Many people doubting Arsenal’s Champions League credentials will simply point to their 4-0 loss at the San Siro against AC Milan during the last 16 last season. The Gunners were comprehensively beaten, humiliated and given a lesson on how to play European football.
These people can only see the same sort of result when Arsenal take to the Allianz Arena on March 13, believing, just by looking at the Premier League table, that the Gunners are still the same side of 12 months ago.
What they are forgetting, though, is the unbelievable spirit Arsenal showed in the return leg at the Emirates, winning 3-0, only to narrowly crash out 4-3 on aggregate.
Arsenal were a Robin van Persie boot away from completing one of the finest European comebacks in history. If the Dutchman had drawn Arsenal level, there is no doubt they would have progressed into the quarterfinals. And after a result like that, who knows how far they could have gone.
Van Persie and Alex Song may now be gone, but the rest of the team that night are still there. They will not have forgotten that game, the football they played, the spirit they showed and the atmosphere at the Emirates—probably the best it has ever seen.
This victory/defeat can only have a positive effect on Arsenal’s campaign this term and could be the difference that drives them those extra few yards over that line.
The main reason people will write off Arsenal’s Champions League chances this year? They are not the force they once were.
The Gunners may have qualified for Europe’s elite competition in every full season that Arsene Wenger has been at the helm. However, they made pretty hard work of it last season, while this season looks to be an even tougher challenge.
Yet before this recent "crisis" under Wenger, there was another season in which Arsenal made life very difficult for themselves: 2005/06. That season, Wenger’s men left it until the last day of the season before pipping Tottenham to fourth place. Lasagne-gate anyone?
But something else happened that season. Arsenal were one win away from the greatest moment in their history.
They lost to Barcelona in the Champions League final, and since then, Wenger is still looking to win any trophy, let alone the biggest prize of them all.
But they nearly did it.
Could they go one better seven years on? Stranger things have happened.
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