17 December 2013

Beat Bayern, then sign Lewandowski. Easy peas.

Unfortunately, it's not quite that easy. Sadly, we won't face Bayern for the first leg in London until 19 February, by which time the transfer-window will have long since shut. However, should we defeat Bayern, we won't simply advance to the Champions League quarterfinal; we'll have served notice to Mr. Lewandowski that we are, shall we say, a club to play for. It might have been nice to have dumped Dortmund in the group stage instead of Napoli, the better to encourage Lewa to consider his options in January, but he might have simply fulfilled his long-held desire to move to Bayern. Now that we've drawn Bayern, we have a chance, however daunting it may be, to show him (and others) what we're up to and capable of.

Before I get ahead of myself, I should get one issue out of the way: I harbor no illusions of winning the Champions League (okay, well one illusion. It's the same in which I'm a little taller and have a Triumph motorcycle). I don't think we have the depth or quality to sustain a serious run through to the championship. I do think we can beat Bayern, though, and not just because we've done it before. There's a tiny asterisk around that 2-0 win at Allianz Arena, one that reminds us that Bayern started the match assuming they would coast through on away-goals. Once we seized that opening, though, we did fight for and earn the victory. We won't have that little trick up our sleeves this time 'round. If anything, Bayern will be even more alert to the threat we pose because of that win and, more recently, because of our form. That said, even with the recent setbacks we've had, we don't have to rely on the element of surprise. We've shown that we have the form and the quality to beat almost anyone on any given day. 

No less an expert on the matter than Dortmund's own Jurgen Klopp believes the same, saying back in November, "Yes, Arsenal have the quality to win the Champions League. They are young, healthy and good technically. They were clever enough to get a result tonight. Of course they can win the final if they don't play against Bayern Munich." I'm going to go ahead and ask you to let me parse that as I will. Klopp said we can "win the final [emphasis added]" if we don't play against Bayern. Well, this isn't the final. It's the knockout phase. Therefore, if I understand Klopp correctly, and I believe I do (why wouldn't I?), we will beat Bayern in the knockout stage and, because we won't face them in the final, win the Champions League. No other interpretation is even remotely possible.

I kid.

If we can beat Bayern—a big "if", admittedly—even if we don't advance, we remind Lewandowski of what we're up to. Compare the two squads. Bayern is or has arguably peaked. Many of its key players are past their primes. Ribery is 30. Robben will be 30 in January. Lahm turned 30 in November. Schweinsteiger turned 29 in August. Dante turned 30 in October. These are starters, key players, who are still performing well but on whose careers the sun is starting to set. By contrast, look at Arsenal. Yes, we have a few players getting long in the tooth. Cazorla just turned 29. Arteta's 31. Per turned 29 in September. However, beyond those, we feature Wilshere (21), Ramsey (22), Gibbs (24), Walcott (24), Özil (25), Szczesny (23), and Giroud (27). In other words, not only are we in-form, we're primed to get better. Many of our key players are on the verge of realizing their potential rather than reminiscing about it. I ended that list with Szczesny and Giroud deliberately, and here's why.

As implied by the above-photo, Szczesny and Lewandowski seem to get along. They're mates. Besties. BFFs. They might even go old-school with those necklaces with a heart, split in half so they share it, that says "Best Friends". Maybe. There's something to that. Friends encourage each other to make good decisions. At the other end of the warm-fuzzy scale, Giroud's age and, let's face it, limited skill-set, make him replaceable. Look: I like the guy and enjoy it when he does well. He seems like a likable bloke who works hard and puts forth his best effort. However, as good as he is at several things, he doesn't truly excel at any of them. Not on a regular basis, at least. In the short term, we might have to bolster our striking options in other ways—a loan perhaps, for some decent player who can at least keep Giroud fresh. In the long term, though, the boot would be on the other foot as Lewandowski leads the charge and Giroud comes on for him late in matches or starts here and there.

What would it take to make this happen? Lewandowski will be out of contract in the summer, which might force Dortmund to seek a reduced offer. This would depend, of course, on Lewandowski's wishes. He doesn't have to abide by Dortmund's wishes. However, we could offer him a pay-raise, something in the order of £200k a week, although this might prompt some resentment among the rank-and-file. How would Wilshere or Ramsey or Walcott feel about a teammate earning that much more than them—double, in most cases? Would the idea of winning silverware be enough to offset their interest in higher wages for themselves?

It's pretty clear that a player of Lewandowski's caliber will probably not make a change mid-season, not when his club contends for Champions League and Bundesliga silverware, not in a World Cup year. Let's hope, then, that Zenit stuns Dortmund and that we send Bayern packing, clarifying once and for all that Bayern, even under Guardiola, are yesterday's news and that we are the club to play for.

This year's Champions League may not offer us much of a chance for silverware, but it's an audition of sorts, an invitation to players like Lewandowski and others to make their mark. By all means, then, let's do what we can to demolish Bayern but then turn our attention towards winning the Prem. The list of players who would kill to play for us would include more than just Lewandowski, and that's not at all a bad position to be in.