March wind will blow all my troubles away.
The American blues song “I Know You Rider” says a lot about Arsenal Football Club in advance of Tuesday’s Champions League match with Bayern Munich.
The number, performed by such groups as the Grateful Dead and Hot Tuna, deftly moves from despair to optimism.
In its opening verse, the storyteller predicts that the listener “gonna miss me when I’m gone.” It’s hard not to attribute that sentiment to the embattled Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger. As has been analyzed on this site and elsewhere, the Frenchman is such an integral part of the club’s culture and structure that his absence will force a transformation.
The song’s verses unfold differently depending on the artist and the performance. By the time they close, they express a hopeful sentiment. That the cares, blues, troubles will, come some March, disappear.
We struggle to see that outcome for Arsenal now amidst the gloom of four defeats in six matches and the uncertainty clouding the futures of Wenger and his two stars Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Özil.
But the hope has to be there somewhere. Whether it lies in the club’s longer trajectory or in expectation of one match, the sane among us all possess some kind of hope. Otherwise, we would stop caring; we’d stop paying attention; we’d find other pastimes.
Masochism or even quest for validation—among those who are looking to prove they’re smarter and/or more committed than others—are sustainable for only so long.
And so to the matter of Bayern. In the binary operation of knockout competition, this is a meaningless encounter. The German giants destroyed the Gunners, 5-1, three weeks ago, and barring some supernatural intervention, Arsenal are not going to better that result and advance to the Champions League quarterfinal.
The way things look—Bayern having put eight goals past Hamburg at the weekend, Arsenal continuing to look rudderless in a 3-1 loss at Liverpool—a result similar to the first leg’s doesn’t seem far-fetched.
Yet we’ll pay attention.
Perhaps hints of something different will emerge. A revised tactical approach. Opportunities for different players. Focus. Professional pride.
Any of those changes to the dynamic will be interesting. They might also set the team up for better days ahead.
Like a trip to Wembley for an FA Cup semifinal. Saturday’s quarterfinal visit of non-league Lincoln City provides a legitimate chance at that outcome.
Or Premier League matches to come with Tottenham, Manchester City, and Manchester United. Make the most of all those occasions, and the Gunners tell a different, less tragic, story of the 2016-17 season.
Because all those conclusions remain possible, we press on.
Arsenal’s players against their recent performances. The direction is negative; few would dispute that. Arresting that slide against one of the three or four most powerful teams in the world is a daunting task. But these are highly paid professionals who got where they are through talent and persistent motivation. Summoning those qualities against this opposition could be effective therapy.
Where to Worry
Could another absolute hiding make things worse? I don’t know.
Even if manager Carlo Ancelotti changes his lineup, Bayern will dominate the ball. And win the tie. The major unknown is whether Arsenal will discover any answers to their recent troubles.
Players to Watch
Arsenal. Aaron Ramsey. Can the Welshman get back into form quickly and help the Arsenal midfield function better? It’s a lot to ask, especially against this opposition. But the rest of Arsenal’s season might depend on it.
Bayern Munich. Franck Ribéry. Because if you have to watch one Bayern player, you might as well content yourself in the knowledge that Arsenal don’t employ someone this unattractive.