Arsene Wenger's decision to rest key players for Arsenal's second leg encounter with Bayern Munich, reveals the shockingly fragile psyche of his Jekyll and Hyde squad. Many have viewed Wenger's choice to rotate as surrender in this year's UEFA Champions League. However, the real problem is that he must rotate and why.
Wenger simply cannot risk his shell-shocked stars suffering another humiliation. He knows that one more high-profile defeat will leave his team too deflated to make a strong push for fourth spot.
With 10 English Premier League games left, Wenger knows he no longer has a margin for error. In a season littered with calamities, Wenger has seen how much his current team struggles with adversity.
In December, a sobering home defeat to Swansea City led to losing the final group game in Europe. That condemned Arsenal to a tie against this powerful Bayern Munich team.
After those results, Arsenal limped through a 2-0 home win over West Bromwich Albion. Yet confidence clearly wasn't high and the Gunners embarrassingly floundered in their next match.
They were bounced out of the Capital One Cup by Bradford City, a team playing in English football's bottom tier. The Gunners actually managed a brief revival after that humiliation.
However, things always felt like they were still on a knife-edge. Such has been the unpredictable, Jekyll and Hyde nature of this Arsenal team.
The same ugly pattern reappeared in February. It began with another soul-destroying cup defeat by lower-league opponents. Championship side Blackburn Rovers ended Arsenal's FA Cup ambitions and at the same time, doomed the first leg against Munich.
Visibly downcast after the debacle against Blackburn, a timid Arsenal team were comfortably handled by the Bundesliga leaders. They followed that 3-1 mauling with another narrow home win, this time over Aston Villa.
Again that wasn't enough to sufficiently rouse the confidence of Wenger's morose troops. They promptly bottled the North London derby.
Wenger knows that these periodic dips in confidence, aren't just frustrating, they are incredibly costly. Losing to Bradford and Blackburn robbed Arsenal of perhaps their only plausible hopes for a trophy.
The defeat to Tottenham Hotspur has put the Gunners' top four hopes in serious jeopardy. That 3-1 first leg capitulation against Bayern, all but rendered the return game moot.
It's easy to believe that Wenger's rotation has been inspired by the need to protect the brittle mentality that has produced these results. He hinted directly at this issue in a recent interview with Eurosport, when he said:
"I am not worried about us potentially coming back against Bayern, I am more worried about consequences that could manifest in the heads of our players.
You will never know how they can absorb those blows and how the team responds to disappointment. This is the most worrying aspect for me."
Wenger knows that sadly damage control is his wisest course in Munich. Yet it is not damage control intended to keep the score down and salvage pride. Wenger's damage control is forced to take the form of safeguarding sulking stars like goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.
Without that, Wenger knows his squad will lack the buoyancy to salvage those top four hopes, beginning Saturday at Swansea. That's a reality that reveals terrible things about Wenger's Jekyll and Hyde team.
It serves as an indictment of a transfer policy that has too often valued superior technique over the right attitude. Emmanuel Adebayor, Aleksandr Hleb and Samir Nasri serve as prime examples.
It also explains the woes Arsenal's manager faces trying to motivate supposed top-level players, who shouldn't need this amount of mental massaging just to get through a season.
Wenger will be chastised for rotating in Munich, but if he wants his squad to be more Jekyll than Hyde in the last ten games of the season, he has no choice.48189