It is a sign of just how bad things have become at Arsenal, of how the mighty have fallen, that Arsene Wenger appears set to name a fringe squad for the second leg of their Champions League Round of 16 encounter with Bayern Munich on Wednesday.
Arsenal, who were battered 3-1 by the Bundesliga leaders at Emirates Stadium on Feb. 19, arrived in the Bavarian capital without right-back Bacary Sagna and attacker Lukas Podolski, and in his pre-match press conference, Wenger also revealed that No. 2 goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski would be handed the start between the sticks.
“[Szczesny] is mentally affected a little bit, so I decided to rest him,” he said (Daily Mail).
Also missing will be inspirational midfielder Jack Wilshere, who has been granted leave to travel to Dubai, where he will rest an inflamed ankle. Wenger referred to Wilshere’s absence as being "more about prevention" (Mirror), suggesting the 21-year-old may have played on Wednesday had Arsenal not been so convincingly beaten in the first leg.
Laurent Koscielny is set for a recall to the centre of defense, and Thomas Rosicky is expected to replace Santi Cazorla in midfield.
Ivory Coast forward Gervinho, who has barely featured since returning from the Africa Cup of Nations, is likely to be given a place in Wenger’s first XI, as is midfielder Francis Coquelin.
The magnitude of the changes is likely to infuriate Arsenal fans, 3,000 of whom have traveled to Munich for the second leg. The selection also flies in the face of Wenger’s pre-match statement that the Gunners would “play as well as we can” and “give our best" (via UEFA).
Perhaps reflecting the mood of his fellow supporters, CNN personality Piers Morgan took to Twitter on Tuesday to express his dismay with Wenger’s approach.
But John Cross, who covers Arsenal as a beat reporter for the Daily Mirror, acknowledged the rotation was likely made with an eye to Saturday’s important Premier League match away to Swansea.
Arsenal are presently fifth in the league and trail fourth-place Chelsea—and the final Champions League berth for next season—by five points with just 10 matches to play. They’re also just two points up on both Liverpool and Everton, and given the manner of the Reds’ win over Tottenham on Sunday they could be forgiven for worrying about Liverpool, in particular.
With that said, naming a second-string squad in a Champions League knockout match is a rare thing, indeed, and one that is likely to further incite frustrated Arsenal supporters, many of whom have long since grown weary of what they see as a mediocre status quo at the club—a reality that was driven home by Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes both in the first leg and in his Tuesday press conference.
“Arsene Wenger always had really good players, world-class players,” he said (Telegraph). “But if you look at the last two years, you have to say that the absolute top players have been transferred to other clubs.”
On Wednesday at Allianz Arena, the top players who remain will either have their feet up in London or be warming the bench in preparation for a match their manager views as more strategically important.