Of course Arsenal CAN beat Bayern, and of course they CAN win by enough goals to see them qualify for the quarter finals; it’s just not very likely. Not right now, anyway. Bayern are a high quality team in top form and Arsenal are a slightly lower quality team who have not managed to string a consistent run of good form together all season.
In football, almost anything can happen, that is the beauty of it. Statistically it’s not very likely that Arsenal will win away to Bayern by two goals, but then statistically it wasn’t very likely Arsenal would win at Anfield by two goals on May 26, 1989, but it still happened.
This situation is similar: Liverpool could afford to lose the match and still win the title. Bayern can afford to lose and still qualify. Thus Liverpool were more concerned with keeping a clean sheet, and then with keeping the score down to one, than they were with scoring themselves. That played into Arsenal’s hands on that famous Friday night, though obviously good fortune also came into it. Liverpool missed a few chances and Arsenal didn’t score too early to upset the delicate balance of the game (and the gameplan). The sequence of events that led to Mickey Thomas charging through the midfield and scoring in the 89th minute was unlikely, but still occurred.
Maybe a 2-0 scoreline would have occurred one time in ten, maybe even one in 20, had the game been played enough times to see a pattern, but we got lucky and won it in the one attempt we had.
Last season Arsenal lost 4-0 away to Milan, then won the home leg 3-0. Close enough to give Gooners anguish over what might have been. But anyone who thinks, “If only we’d made it 4-1 in the away leg, we’d have been through”, or thinks we’d have had the same chance of winning 3-0 in a one-off game against them, is being naïve. After the first leg Milan had one foot in the next round and knew they could afford to lose away. They didn’t deliberately think, “We’ve won this, we’ll take it easy,” but undoubtedly their level of focus was different as a result of kicking off the away leg with a 4-0 lead. Margins in top level sport are thin, and psychology matters. Arsenal fans should know as well as anyone the relaxing effect that a 4-0 half time lead can have on a team.
In both these examples, Arsenal had little or nothing to lose. There was more at stake in 1989 – a first League Championship in 18 years hinged on 90 minutes – but the effect on the players was similar. In 1989: “We’ve got to go for it – but a little bit carefully to start because we don’t want to concede”; last year: “We’re four down, we’ve just got to go for it.”
Sometimes if you just go for it, it comes off, even if you aren’t the biggest, strongest or most talented.
So against Bayern, Arsenal need to go for it. The chance of scoring three and beating a Bayern team (who always score and rarely concede at home) by two clear goals is still small, but this is not a one-off match and Bayern don’t have to win. It could happen. The chance may be slightly lower or higher depending on which players are picked for both teams, but I doubt that actually changes the odds very much. If Arsenal win (by at least two) and manage to score three, it will by a collective determination, not dependent on which of our similarly talented midfielders or rather flaky goalkeepers is on the pitch. I just hope all the Arsenal players throw away any inhibitions, don’t get intimidated and make every effort to compete for everything. That’s enough to get every fan behind the team, then I’ll cross my fingers and hope to beat the odds.