17 December 2013

Pep finds the Arsenal draw a bit hard to swallow.

Speaking of the Champions League draw on Monday, Pep Guardiola was full of praise for the Gunners, remembering them full-well from previous encounters while he was with Barcelona. Arsenal "was the most difficult draw...They have huge, huge players, Özil, Cazorla, and, uh, Arteta, Mertesacker, and, they have talented players so they are a very, very good team. I am happy for that, to play with the bests teams is fascinating, and we know so we have to play good. We know as Bayern Munich what happened last season." Whereas some managers might utter the words with all the smarm of a snake-oil salesman, Pep seems to mean what he says there.

However, in a less-guarded moment, sitting with his players as they watched the draw, Pep reacted a bit more viscerally, wincing, tucking his chin to chest, and scratching his forehead as if to say, "eek, this is going to be tough" before collecting his wits enough to nod, suggesting "oh—er, um, yeah, it'll be okay, we'll be fine." That initial, gut-reaction is quite telling, though, as it confirms what many of us suspect or believe: the top clubs do not want to have to face us. Sure, part of that comes from the company we keep—Zenit, Olympiakos, and Galatasaray just don't inspire as much fear. On the other hand, we have shown that we're made of sterner stuff than most of the other second-place finishers and, even coming off two losses, we're not to be trifled with or taken lightly.

In light of our recent encounters with Bayern—and with Pep, for that matter—we've given them something to chew on. I don't see us winning so famously at the Allianz Arena, nor do I see us losing so sloppily at home, either. That second-leg result is of course attributable to the outcome of the first, after all. Should we put forth a stronger display in the first leg in London on 19 February, we might be able to put Bayern on their back foot for that second leg on 11 March. Last year's 2-0 win shows that we can weather the worst that Bayern can throw at us; after Giroud put us up in the third minute, Bayern realized that they'd have to play with intensity instead of lethargy, but even then, they couldn't dent our defense.

A lot can happen between now and February, but the confidence we'll draw from that match and from our form have Bayern's manager tugging his collar and swallowing hard. For those who were starting to worry about our wheels falling off, that's ample evidence that one or two bad results has done little to change our reputation among those who matter—those who have to face us. We're coming, Pep.