Arsenal tag-teams: the components of hope
In Munich, Thierry badly missed Dennis; Pat badly missed Edu after the latter's injury on twenty five minutes; and Kolo made uncharcteristic mistakes because instead of having Sol alongside him he had to contend with having Cygan as a defensive partner.
With Dennis, Edu, and Sol off the pitch, their regular tag-team partners effectively also vacated the pitch. They were physically present, but mentally they had already conceded the match.
Dennis is a legend. He is the ultimate link-man between midfield and the back of the net. He is the father on the pitch. He is the only player that Thierry and Pat looks up to. Without Dennis to look up, Theirry and Pat feel the burden of being the elder statesmen and they don't perform as they could. They need Dennis as much becasue of this as for his undoubted ability on the ball.
Thierry looked like he was lost in a Siberian desert in Munich. His face said this: I'm lost without Dennis. I'm half the player when Dennis is not around, and I don't like being half-Thierry. I like being the complete-Thierry. But he won't turn up tonight because Dennis is not here.
On big match days, Thierry needs Dennis.
Edu is a roll-royce player. His passing is ultra-smooth and he gets the team playing at a high tempo. And most importantly, his anchor play allows Pat to play at his maruding best. Pat trusts Edu. And with this trust his game moves up to top gears.
Pat doesn't fully trust Fabregas or Flamini because of their youth and inexperience. Consequently Pat feels the burden of thinking he is effectively a one-man central midfield and this stifles his play and his mindset. He doesn't just play at a lesser level without Edu or Gilberto, he looks different too. His face on the pitch says: I'm burdened.
On big match days, Pat needs either Edu or Gilberto.
Kolo will benefit from not playing next too Pascal. Kolo knows that Pascal is a liability, and Kolo does not revel playing with this feeling. With Phillipe alongside, Kolo will play more confidently. Phillipe has determination in his eyes and Kolo would have recognised this.
On big match days, Kolo needs Sol or someone he can trust.
In Munich, the spine of the team was ripped out of the Gunners. Not only was Dennis, Edu and Sol missing, but their regular tag-partners also effectively went missing. With Freddie playing in an unfamiliar front role and Asher C out though illness, it is no wonder that the real Arsenal did not turn up.
At Highbury tonight, Dennis will be back, Edu should be back, and Pascal will be out. With their tag-team partners on the pitch, Thierry, Pat, and Kolo will also return to their best. And with Freddie back in midfield and Asher C back in defence, the return of the Arsenal 49ers should be on show.
Whether or not this will be enough to overturn the first-leg deficit is another question.
The important thing is that Arsenal regain their European pride by playing with the old Arsenal power-playability for the whole 90 minutes.
With the return of the Arsenal tag-teams there is every hope this can happen. And then everything is possible.