In my opinion, there is only one answer here, although it is probably not the one Gooners will want to hear. Arsenal travel to Munich tonight and the goal should be to return with our collective confidence–and our small but high quality collection of players–at least somewhat intact.
We have sowed some very bad seeds in our Champions League group play (by losing our two opening matches) but we did a very good thing beating Bayern two weeks ago, leaving us with a chance to get through.
Getting a result tonight would enhance those chances and be wonderful for our collective confidence. It also seems a very difficult task. Our team is down to bare bones and we have a very important league match–a North London Derby, no less–on Sunday, and, unfortunately, that is the match we must prioritize.
That’s not to say we should lay down like a lamb, nor make out an idea that Bayern are a pack of indomitable lions. It’s just a reality check. This is November, not May, and the match must be approached with an eye, not just to the night at hand, but to getting to that latter month in the best shape possible. Ideally, at that time, we’ll be in with good shouts in any and all competitions in which we remain.
So, as much as many would take a draw if it were on offer, I’d go a step further and say I’d actually forfeit the points if we could skip this one entirely. It’s a bit like the Capital One Cup match 8 nights ago. Just like that one, we cannot skip it–and, in truth, I relish watching a collection of fine players, from both teams, taking on the relative challenges the match presents. Still, it’s a very tough ask, when you consider ALL the factors.
So, what can we do?
First off, we have to be honest. As much as our home victory over Bayern was wonderful it was also very much against the run of play. We defended well, presented good threats on the break (Theo Walcott rather terrorized them with his pace) and eventually broke through on a set piece. The second goal showed more pace, Hector Bellerin pouncing and getting around a defender, before crossing for Mesut Ozil’s goal.
Both Walcott and Bellerin are injured for this one so a different approach will be needed. We’ll have to defend as well as we did in the home match but we’ll probably need to rely more on hold-up work with forwards Olivier Giroud and Joel Campbell being asked to retain possession with their touches. Normally we want goals from those guys–and, of course, scoring would be the very best form of defense–but shortening the match in any way we can is really the main goal here. Every thirty seconds of retained possession will be important as will any corners or fouls (set-pieces) those guys can secure.
They can do it, however. Joel Campbell did just such work with Costa Rica in their surprise run at World Cup 2014 in Brazil and Giroud presents a physical challenge for any group of defenders. Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin have to be equally circumspect on the ball and work as a group to get it forward to the hold up players.
That could be all the tougher as, surely, they will be pressed to play deep in our own half to help our back line against the very strong attack Bayern will bring. And then there’s the defensive equivalent–the hard pressing ‘ronda’ game which Pep Guardiola made famous at Barcelona and has already outlined as a primary tactic for this one when they do lose the ball. Expect tense moments in our half–both off and on the ball. If the midfield group gets beaten, or lose possession in bad spots, our back line, which (I think) also picks itself, will also have to have near flawless games.
The greatest spotlight may shine on the player who has to fill in for Bellerin: Mathieu Debuchy. Whereas some Gooners have all but given up on the Frenchman, we should remember that he was selected in Brazil ahead of Bacary Sagna and looked another good Wenger buy before a pair of injuries gave Bellerin his opportunity. Clearly, Debuchy’s ability to get forward cannot match our young Spaniard’s. Still, as a man to man defender, he might have what it takes.
Too many Gooners, in my opinion, too easily equate team results with individual attributes. Debuchy’s last match, up in Sheffield in the throw-away League Cup match, was lost 3-nil. Thus, to some, he cannot defend. Bellerin has been part of many recent clean sheets, including the home match vs Bayern, so obviously, he is the better defender. Did nobody else fail to see that he was utterly helpless trying to stop Douglas Costa and that his blushes were only spared due to Costa’s poor finishing on the night? Frankly, I think Debuchy cannot do worse, and, since the forward game is less important this time around, Debuchy at right back is (perhaps) no loss at all. Could Bellerin’s “small groin problem” actually be Wenger playing this idea–and resting Bells for the match where we really require the three points? If so, our manager absolutely does not suffer from a “small groin problem” of his own… Regardless, it’s a bright spotlight for Debuchy, but also a chance to impress, something he’s been very concerned about with France hosting the European Championships next summer and Mathieu desperate for a spot with the home team.
There’s some talk that we might try to protect Debuchy by moving Alexis to the right side (and then playing Kieran Gibbs ahead of Nacho Monreal) or even by playing Mathieu Flamini in that right sided, free-role, which suited Aaron Ramsey before he pulled up with a hamstring injury (in the home match vs Bayern, in fact). I don’t think so with Joel Campbell’s aforementioned hold-up play being the main reason. He also must be quite buoyed by finally netting for our club at Swansea this past weekend. Here then is my predicted line-up, with the only change from that one being Debuchy for Bellerin.
Bench: Macey, Gabriel, Chambers, Gibbs, Flamini, Iwobi, Reine-Adelaide
As always, that’s just my best guess on the players and just my opinion about the significant narratives at play tonight. To me it seems a very tough situation, made all the tougher by our injury depleted squad and the North London Derby so close on the horizon. That said, I think the squad, playing it’s best and getting a bit of luck can get a result on the night, just as we did at home. Bayern will be certainly be motivated (and it could be argued that they look even stronger with Arren Robben and Franck Ribery available this time) but still, you never know, and I have a LOT of faith in our boys.
So, go on then, you Gunners…
Gooners too. What do you all think?…