Nice win, but Arsene Wenger needs a time machine to fix this Champions League campaign

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Happy Back to the Future Day. If you’ve spent any time on the internet recently it cannot have escaped your notice that October 21, 2015, marks the day when Michael J Fox materialised in a futuristic Hill Valley populated by hoverboards and dystopian crimes against fashion.

And seeing as how rebooting trilogies is in vogue, with the new Star Wars coming out, how about a timely plot proposal for Back to the Future IV: Marty McFly travels back in time in an attempt to convince Arsene Wenger to play Petr Cech in the first two games of his Champions League campaign in the 2015-16 season.

It is impossible to wind back the clock and discover what difference Cech would have made had he played instead of David Ospina in the two defeats to Dinamo Zagreb and Olympiacos which may well still see Arsenal knocked out of the Champions League, despite the Gunners’ superb win over Bayern Munich earned with a performance of real resilience and no little brilliance.

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crowd – Arsenal v Bayern Munich – Reuters

But what is certain is that Cech demonstrated in the 2-0 win over Bayern what difference a truly top-class keeper can make. Arsenal’s only summer signing made some excellent saves, commanded his box with authority and seemed to transfer confidence to his defence by some mysterious process of osmosis.

After nine minutes, with Bayern dominating the ball and looking to pull Arsenal apart, Cech was alert to make a fantastic save to repel a shot from Thiago Alcantara after the midfielder had played a neat one-two with Thomas Muller. Arturo Vidal was also among those denied but Cech’s finest moment came on 75 minutes when he stood up to Robert Lewandowski and flicked the Pole’s shot away when he had a clear sight of goal.

This was a match to accentuate the importance of goalkeepers. Cech was outstanding, the man of the match in a great team performance from Arsenal which allowed them to secure a result which few would have thought possible. His resilience typified the team’s refusal to be cowed by possibly Europe’s best team and thrive on the counter-attack.

Manuel Neuer, meanwhile, produced possibly the save of the season as he flung out an arm to claw out Theo Walcott’s header in a barely believable intervention. The Bayern keeper then swung the game Arsenal’s way with a rash charge from his line, though, allowing Olivier Giroud to bundle home the opening goal.

When Rafa Benitez had enough time on his hands to regularly update his own website with blogs, around 2008, he made a point of listing formations with the goalkeeper included – 1-4-4-2, 1-4-2-3-1 etc. A pedantic touch in keeping with Benitez’s persona, perhaps, but Arsenal’s win over Bayern Munich showed just how integral the man with the gloves can be, for better and for worse.

Which makes it even more inexplicable that Wenger chose to play Ospina for his opening two matches in Europe. The Arsenal manager threatened to walk out of a press conference when he was pressed on this bizarre selection at the start of October, laying into “boring” and “depressing” critics who dared to question his choice of the Colombian over the Czech, despite Ospina’s critical error in the Olympiacos match.

But no sufficient explanation has been forthcoming and Cech’s return against Bayern Munich exposed Wenger’s folly.

Quite simply, Cech should have started both matches; leaving him on the bench was an obvious error, much as Wenger might still deny it.

The victory for Olympiacos away at Dinamo Zagreb on Tuesday means Arsenal’s chances of qualifying for the last-16 are still in real jeopardy. If the Greeks win at home to the Croats in the next round of matches, Arsenal will have a big challenge in catching them up.

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Arsenal impressed as they beat Bayern Munich in the Champions League. – PA Sport

Perhaps selecting Cech in their opening two games would have stopped Arsenal from opening with two such damaging losses. At this distance there is no way to know for sure. But his value was clear in a brilliant win against Bayern which it would be a shame to reclassify as consolatory if Arsenal are indeed knocked out.

Author: EuroSport

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