Gus Johnson called Manchester United vs. Real Madrid last week. Today is round two…There could be no better metaphor for Arsenal’s last eight seasons than this GIF of Arsene Wenger fumbling with his puffy coat zipper.
Bayern Munich vs. Arsenal
Two sustainable soccer business models. One furnishes a successful club. One lines the pockets of the clubs owners. Bayern Munich pay to keep established stars and supplement weaknesses. This season, rebounding from a Champions League Final loss, it has paid off. Bayern have won 18/22 in the Bundesliga, spotting themselves 15 points at the top after 22 matches. They have outscored opponents 57-7. More ridiculously, they are 10-0-1 away from home and have allowed just one goal. They are on pace to eclipse their best ever points total by 10. This team does not yet have the silverware, but it may be Bayern’s best ever team.
Arsenal sell established stars and replace them with kids and stopgaps. This season, they have hit their nadir under Arsene Wenger. The Gunners sit four points off the Champions League places, 21 points behind Manchester United (who fleeced them of Robin van Persie). They have won just three of 12 against top eight opponents and taken one point from five matches against the top three. That disappointment has been punctuated by losses to lower league teams (first ever under Wenger) in both domestic cups. The Champions League is their one remaining hope of ending the eight-year trophy drought. It is a faint one.
Rather than blaming their obvious deficiencies, Arsenal have called out malicious forces. Improvement seems perpetually around the corner. Once the promise was the “next generation” maturing. Now, after that generation was sold, it is financial fair play hamstringing everyone else. Arsenal’s excuse is they can’t compete with clubs owned by foreign billionaires. The club is owned by two foreign billionaires and has Europe’s fifth-largest yearly intake.
These clubs may be in different places, but this matchup is not that lopsided. Arsenal have dominated home legs in the knockout stage, with a 5-0-1 record and +13 goal margin since 2008. The trouble is they have been almost as bad on the road. One could see Arsenal mustering for a home win in the first leg, but their creaky defense can’t hold off a loaded Bayern for 180 minutes.
Porto vs. Malaga
The trans-Iberian undercard. Porto leads the Portuguese Liga on goal difference, outscoring opponents 47-9. They sold Brazilian striker Hulk to Zenit, inciting a manifesto from their racist Russian fans. But Colombian striker Jackson Martinez has been an able replacement, scoring 23 goals in 22 starts this season. Erratically-financed Malaga have offloaded $57 million worth of players, most notably Santi Cazorla and Nacho Monreal to Arsenal, without spending a euro. Somehow, though, they have found themselves in the knockout stages in the Champions League and sit fourth in La Liga.