The long awaited moment has finally arrived. The Bavarian brigade have descended on London. Time for nervous anticipation and a bit of trepidation perhaps. Following their survival from the Group of Death, a fresh challenge awaits the good guys of Arsenal. What can be more daunting than to face Bayern Munich, the “best team in the world”, in the first leg of a dance unto death?
Neither is this the first time. Last year as well, Arsene Wenger’s men played Bayern in a first leg at The Home of Football, and they lost 1-3. An outrageously superb return leg victory by 2-0 still saw Arsenal crash out of Champions League on away goals. Bayern Munich went on to win the Champions League in Europe followed by the World Clubs Cup.
However, daunting as the challenge no doubt is, there are some positive notes of encouragement this time round.
First, the away win against Bayern in Munich sparked a remarkable run for Arsenal, leading to an amazing record over the calendar year 2013; by and large, this run of performances and results still continues.
Second, Arsenal have had occasional indifferent performances, but the positive vibes from the FA Cup win against Liverpool are fresh in the minds and hearts. This is in sharp contrast to last year, when they went into the game against a disappointing loss to Blackburn. Quoting Arsene from yesterday: ““We have a strong team spirit, that is for sure, and a strong desire to do well and a united team. … We did not always have the belief, because belief is built by the results and on that front we are stronger.”
Third, Bayern were the champions last year, and are favourites this year. But they are not yet champions again, and the law of averages indicates they may falter at some step. And after the heroic display by our boys last year, it is quite possible that the massive fall from grace may happen here and now, against the mighty Arsenal.
Fourth, Bayern were a formidable unit last year, and they still are. But are they better than last year? Well, the core of the team is essentially the same, and the main difference is the new manager – the master craftsman Pep Guardiola. By contrast, Arsenal have a new magnificent wizard, Mesut Ozil, plus a lovely bunch of upcoming stars in The Ox, Wilshere and Gnabry. On balance, the relative changes in team strengths seem evenly matched.
On the injury front as well, it seems fairly balanced. Arsenal are missing two key players in Ramsey and Theo. Bayern have sustained injuries to Ribery, Shaqiri and Badstuber; Schweinsteiger is returning from injury and may not feature in the game.
Fifth, Bayern have been mighty impressive in the Bundesliga this year. But they get to play largely weaker teams in the German league. Whereas Arsenal has fought hard against the Oilers, and is therefore potentially better tempered by their fighting performances. The motivation and spirit within the team is very high. Yes, there was a minor incident involving the truancy of one Olivier Giroud, but that cancels off against the reportedly unsettled Kroos in the Germand side.
Overall, it looks even stevens. It remains to be seen who turns up on the night. Who has the greater desire to perform well. Arsenal’s defensive performance will be under particular spotlight. Not conceding an away goal will be particularly crucial.
On the line-up, the goalkeeper and defence select themselves. The primary objective to my mind will be to withstand an immensely potent Bayern attacking force, likely comprising midfielders Robben, Kroos and Muller and frontman Gotze. With this in mind, I would suggest Flamini and Wilshere as defensive midfielders, and an attacking midfield of Rosicky, Ozil and The Ox. Rosicky may moving back in defence and Wilshere likewise move up in attack.
And finally, here is the bombshell. Given disciplinary issues, including a disregard for team curfew the night before a game, I would not be averse to Wenger allowing Giroud some more bench warming time. Football is a team game, and no one is indispensable within the team. Podolski is the striker in my starting lineup. He has just scored a fantastic team goal against Liverpool, and so his confidence should be high. Santi scuffed shooting opportunities twice gainst Liverpool and does not appear to be fully fit. He will be on the bench as well, in preparation to launch a salvo when the need comes.
However, the Boss knows best. We will see what team emerges. The bottomline is to fight hard in the midfield and break down opposition attacks, and a tight and compact backline to thwart any advances that may trickle through. The priority is not to concede an away goal to Bayern. There will be chances at the other end, and we should be eager to take these chances.
All to play for. Onwards and upwards!
Written by arnie