Some things never change, or at least that how it feels at times. Once again Arsenal face Bayern Munich in the Champions League and Gooners will hope that we are not doomed to repeat history.
Even though Bayern eliminated Arsenal in this very round in both 2013 and 2014 and produced a lopsided scoreline in their home stadium last season during group play, we should not travel to Germany without a measure of belief. With the 2nd leg at home this time, we should know that if we can produce a good result at the Allianz stadium we will be in with a chance to advance. In addition, each season is different; Bayern are changed and so are we.
Although Bayern are 7 points clear in the Bundesliga, all reports indicate that it has been an ongoing process attempting to modify their style under new manager Carlo Ancelotti. The Italian, in contrast to Pep Guardiola, now at Manchester City, favors greater discipline at the back. This has been echoed by players like goalkeeper Manuel Neuer and defender Mats Hummels, both of whom have stated that the goal in the first leg is keeping a clean sheet. Ancelotti has cautioned that Arsenal are an attacking team and will have plenty of the ball, setting up potential counterattacks; Neuer thinks there’s enough attacking talent in both teams for a very entertaining match.
Such a match is possible. Alhough Bayern will be without Franck Ribery, they have plenty of strength in attack. Guys like Thomas Mueller, Douglas Costa, Arjen Robben, Kingsley Coman, Renato Sanches and Robert Lewandowski leave Ancelotti spoiled for choice. Further back, they will be missing Jerome Boateng, but they still boast a plethora of defensively minded footballers like Phillip Lamm, David Alaba, Joshua Kimmich, Thiago Alcantara, Javi Martinez, Arturo Vidal and Xabi Alonso, all of whom work hard to control the pitch but are also able to get the ball forward in a hurry.
I don’t see such an open game. Against Bayern, I believe Arsenal will have to play in a highly disciplined fashion employing our best footballers in every position, all of them keeping a keen eye on fore-aft balance. It’s fine to move the ball forward and work for goal scoring chances, but we cannot afford to get caught on the break by being too aggressive. Arsenal’s primary task will be to play in a controlled manner in order to bring a manageable scoreline back home to North London.
Unfortunately, we come into the match without our highest confidence and best form. Manager Arsene Wenger is once again under massive pressure. Thankfully, we were able to eke out a 2-nil win over Hull City this past Saturday, but it was hardly a convincing performance against a team in the relegation places. Still, it was an improvement over consecutive league losses which find us in yet another tight battle for a top 4 finish in the Premier League; 10 points off Chelsea at the top of the table seems a mountain to climb.
As such, a Champions League tie against a huge club like Bayern presents a great opportunity. Who will Wenger pick for this crucial match?
At the back, he’s already confirmed that David Ospina will start in goal. The Colombian is a fine shot-blocker but tends to create heart-in-mouth moments with questionable decisions about when to leave his line. He’ll need better communication with his back four, a group that probably picks itself. The two Spaniards, Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal, will likely start at fullback while Shkodran Mustafi and Laurent Koscielny surely will pair again as central defenders.
Wenger finally has a bit of choice ahead of that group. Granit Xhaka is available after a four match suspension and Mohamed Elneny has returned from the African Cup of Nations. Will either or both get a start? Francis Coquelin and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have been manning the double pivot in recent matches and probably represent his other choices.
Further forward, despite Wenger recently questioning his confidence, there’s Mesut Ozil who should be keen to impress on his return to his native Germany. Many have argued that Ozil should be dropped based on his current form, but I just can’t see Wenger making such a move. Alex Iwobi, just 20 years of age, has looked good on the ball and strong in attack from a starting position on the left. Will Theo Walcott be chosen on the right or could this be a spot for Danny Welbeck? It’s also possible that Alexis Sanchez takes one of the wide positions if Olivier Giroud were to start as our center forward. It would be a surprise to me if Giroud, who didn’t feature at all vs Hull, got the call up front instead of Alexis. Unfortunately, Lucas Perez, a player many Gooners would like to see get more playing time, is out with a hamstring problem.
I have to say that I don’t feel very confident about Wenger’s picks but here’s my best guess:
Substitutes: Cech, Gabriel, Gibbs, Elneny, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Welbeck, Giroud
Personally, I’d prefer to see Elneny get a spot as the Egyptian can run all day and recycles possession in a way I believe this game demands. Others might prefer Oxlade-Chamberlain who seems a revived character playing in a deeper midfield position recently. Giroud up front also appeals to me. What do you think, fellow Gooners?
As we saw with Paris Saint-Germain’s 4-nil win over Barcelona last night, strange things can happen in these first legs. We nosed in front of the French club in group play after a pair of draws against them, so maybe should find some confidence in their great result. We should also remember that we have had a measure of success at the Allianz including a 2-nil victory there in 2014. Such a scoreline would be a dream and frankly, if it were on offer, I’d take a draw in Munich, ideally with an away goal or two to give us an advantage in the return leg. How about you? Does anybody care to predict what sort of match we’ll see if not a final scoreline.
There’s no doubt that another CL match-up with Bayern is daunting. Still, if our team plays at its best, there is nothing to fear against the German giants.
Go on then…