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Friday, 28 February 2014

Arsenal: Should Wenger rest his star names for Bayern clash?

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Arsenal's Champions League hopes hang by a thread following their 2-0 defeat by the reigning champions Bayern Munich, but former Arsenal manager George Graham believes Arsene Wenger shouldn't waste his time or valuable resources in trying to overturn the impossible.

Graham, who won the double as a player and claimed six major honours as manager at Arsenal, thinks Arsene Wenger should admit defeat and send a weakend team to Germany for the second leg in order to pursue their Premier League title dream. 

While that may sound like a good plan on paper, I'm not entirely sure that throwing in the towel like that would necassarily be the best thing for the fans or players. 

OzilArsenal are still on for the Treble this season and who knows what would have happended had Mesut Ozil found the back of the net with that weak penalty last week. The way Arsenal set up their shop that night they could have been out of sight by half-time. As it was, Ozil's penalty miss and Szczesny's red card swung the balance of play firmly into the champions' court and they were not going to pass up such a golden opportunity.

Going to the Allianz Arena with a defecit to overcome is nothing new for the Gunners. They went there last season following a 3-0 home defeat and nobody gave them a cat in hell's chance of beating the Germans in their own backyard. But lo and hehold, the magic of football was with the visitors and they won 2-0. It wasn't enough to send them through but that was the moment that kick-started something special within the squad. Lightning could easily strike twice. This is cup football after all. If Arsenal plan properly, defend resolutely and break with pace and effeciency - and keep 11 players on the pitch - they could unruffle a few feathers.

Changing the team and resting key players would have a huge impact on their title chances. Throwing in the towel now would be the wrong message to send out to the players, fans and media. As if they needed reminding, but Arsenal haven't won a trophy for nine years. You don't get to this stage of a competition and then go 'Ah stuff it'. Well, not unless you're Aston Villa.

The Villains are the classic example of why you should never prioritise silverware. In the 2009/10 season Villa were going great guns. They were flying in the league and doing well in the Europa League. However, Martin O'Neill opted to put Champions League qualification above everything else. He named a reserve side to play CSKA Moscow. The end result was Villa being knocked out of Europe and failing to win any of their next 10 games in the league, dropping out of the top four. And they have never been the same since.

Arsenal cannot afford to go down that road, however tempting it may be.

The situation is quite clear. Bayern are champions of Europe, are managed by one of the best coaches in the game, have some true world class stars in their squad and are the team to beat. Arsenal will find it hard, but miracles do happen. Do you remember when Arsenal spanked Inter Milan 5-1 in the San Siro? Nobody saw that coming. And that's what makes football so great. On the night, anything can happen. Manuel Neuer may get injured in the first minute, Dante could score an own goal, Olivier Giroud could prove that he is just as efficient on the pitch as he is in the sheets - the dirty boy!

I can appreciate where Graham is coming from. He doesn't want Arsenal to pick up needless injuries when the game is seemingly beyond them, but Arsenal must fight to the bitter end with their best players on the pitch. The fans have waited long enough for a piece of silverware that hanging up the white flag before setting foot on German soil would be suicidal for Wenger.

"One of the questions facing Arsene is whether they play their best team and try to win the tie, which is near impossible, or concentrate on the league," Graham toldBBC Radio Five Live's Sportsweek programme.

"Personally I'd play a weakened team because I think the second half of the first leg was like a practice match for Bayern.

"It took a lot out of Arsenal and they have some very tough games coming up. They need fresh legs and fresh minds.

"This is one of the big decisions managers have to make."

I guess that mentality explains why Graham is no longer in the game.

Calling all Arsenal fans: Do you think Wenger should rest players for the clash with Bayern Munich, like George Graham has suggested, or should the Gunners go there with all top guns blazing? Do you think the Gunners can overcome that first-leg defecit? How vital is it to win something this season given the campaign you've had? Whatever your views, we'd love to hear from you.

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Antony Melvin



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