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Hox in the Box: Champions League return is a welcome relief
Those months of mind-numbing monotony finally appear to be relinquishing their grip on our lives as we once again welcome back the Champions League. Forget the supposed 'magic' of the FA Cup which essentially translates to a rather condescending view of lower league football and a comment on the ever widening financial gap between two sides on opposing ends of the games’ hierarchy.
For every 'fairytale' cup story there are at least 10 fixtures that fail to live up to even the most modest of expectations, but not when the CL is concerned. No, the drama that's set to unfold over the next few weeks will get the tongues wagging and we'll see everything from fallen titans to potential champions and everything in between. In that same vein, I'll start what promises to be a fortnight of shameless hyperbole and unfulfilled promise: Tonight's encounter between Arsenal and Bayern Munich could be either the making or the breaking of Arsene Wenger's Arsenal and not only define the rest of the season but also the rest of Wenger's tenure at the club.
The very public war of words with Mourinho already appears to be casting a shadow of doubt over the potential for any sort of success in the Gunners' season. Words like 'respect' and 'lack of' are being thrown around as if they have any place in today's modern footballing culture defined by crass and fickle decisions. Combine that with Giroud's alleged infidelity and you have the kind of toxic concoction of side issues that could well spell disaster for the Gunners and derail a season of such promise.
The dominant form of Ramsey has been scuppered by niggling injuries and the mighty force of Ozil seems to have been ground down by the relentless nature of the English Premier League. That coupled with the lack of any real recognised strikers (other than Giroud) means taking on the German giants, the current champions and the current pet project of former Barca idol Pep Guardiola, is a formidable task that not many will envy. And what of Bayern? Well, unfortunately for Arsene they are in imperious form and Pep has done the impossible in improving an already near perfect team.
The transition from defence to up front is more in the style of his 'tikka-takka' Barcelona team than the pragmatic approach adopted by Heynkes last year, who would seek to shore up the defensive midfield role when ahead in games: a tactic, it has to be said, that worked to great effect in last year's competition. But you felt an injury to either Robben or Ribery would surely have robbed them of last year's winners trophy, not so this year. Guardiola's use of the enigmatic and world class Philip Lahm is also of substance given the wing back is so effective in almost every position across the back and in midfield, so deciding on an opposing strategy to nullify so a potent weapon is a head scratcher for the Londoners coaching team.
Tonight's game will be one of intrigue and ultimately won that could be won in the centre of the pitch given the scepticism both managers seem to have for more than one striker. Either way it'll be a cracker.