The first knockout stage fixtures of the UEFA Champions League have given football lovers much to look forward to when the games begin. The draws have thrown up set of games where top teams meet each other at the outset, and teams traditionally belonging to the middle rungs of the elite competition facing each other.
One fixture stands out in terms of the power equation of the respective clubs – the one between Arsenal and Bayern Munich. While some years back this would have been counted as a game between teams of equal might, in light of the present it can be surmised that Arsenal start as the underdogs in this season’s matchup.
Bayern have moulded themselves into a solid footballing entity in the past few seasons. They have reached the finals of UCL twice in the last four years and possess a dazzling attacking line completed by a pressing line of midfielders comfortable at keeping possession in both halves and a defence that rarely lets in goals.
Arsenal on the other hand have gone from one end of misery to the other. Their tale has been starkly different this season – their defence was already in tatters, the departure of last season’s scorer and provider in chiefs, namely Robin van Persie and Alexander Song, have left the attack and midfield of the Gunners in a rut from which they are yet to find a way out.
In the midst of the general decline in standards at the Emirates, one man has shown veritable signs that he is ready to take on the role as the club’s talisman after Thierry Henry and Van Persie. Theo Walcott has shown streaks of maturity beyond his age – although he has been around for such a long time that at 23, he has clocked more than 200 caps for club and country combined.
That Walcott possesses bags of talent was never in question, what has come as a pleasant surprise for the fans is his poise in the box and maturity in taking decisions. While in seasons past there was a disposition in shooting through the roof, this year the transformation has been to a speedy winger who also has the cunning to find space in the middle and create the right angles to take the attempts at goal.
The general attacking personnel at Arsenal with the likes of Giroud, Gervinho, Arshavin et al clearly is lacking in credibility at the top level as suggested by their output in this season. With 12 goals already and eight assists under his name, Walcott has given Arsenal a new hope to believe. When you think of it, how his goals have lifted the air of pessimism, it also strikes at the same time that the winger was on the verge of leaving the club with contract disputes.
Santi Cazorla, for all his mastery, would be afforded little space by the industrious and packed Bayern holding midfielders and defence line. What can swing the fortunes in Arsenal’s favour is a player who can create something magical on his own in a game like this and to be fair, we expect Walcott to beat Lahm or Alaba for pace and technique at times during the double-header. Therein lays the chances of the Gunners to create pressure on the Bavarian team.
If there was any time for him to step up and lay claim to the presently vacant role of the ‘talisman’ for Arsene Wenger’s side, this is the occasion for Walcott to show the footballing world that his talent has been realized to a substantial degree. Needless to say, the Arsenal fans worldwide would pray for him to tear asunder Bayern defence and maximize their chances of an upset victory.