Compartmentalising is one of the toughest things to do for an individual. For a football club, it is even harder. It is easy to say or put on paper how a team could clear their minds off of a cup upset but it’s another thing altogether when they are on the pitch. There will be lingering doubts due to that defeat and it doesn’t get easier when they look across the pitch and see that the mighty Bayern Munich are at the opposite end.
The Champions League returns with a plum tie against the former German Bundesliga champions and last season’s runners-up in this very same competition. They will be licking their wounds from that defeat in their home stadium to Chelsea and will definitely want to go one better this season. Bayern are also a team in form as proven by their lead over Borussia Dortmund, a whopping 15 points, more than what Manchester United hold over their title challengers.
Their front 6 is a fearsome one with free-scoring Mario Mandzukic as the focal point of their attack. He is ably supported by a plethora of attackers who can claim to be amongst the best in the world. Franck Ribery and Thomas Muller are not your typical wingers and they have more freedom of movement than just hugging the touchlines. In Toni Kroos and Bastian Schweinsteiger, they have 2 midfielders who only have Xavi and Andreas Iniesta in front of them in terms of the best midfield partnership in the world.
There is plenty to fear going into the game. Our form suggests that anything other than a hiding, would be considered a success. Bayern are the clear favourites and that much is clear, even the bookies are not blind to that fact. Very rare does Arsenal take a handicap advantage in a home game. Yet, our team does have the propensity to raise their game for the occasion and hopefully Arsene Wenger will be able to raise their spirit and evoke some, if not all of the performance that we showed when Barcelona last played in our stadium.
Our manager, is a un-typical fashion, was in a fighting mood in his press conference. There’s always two ways to look into any story. Whether you believe that Wenger is showing some defiance over the supposed “crisis” that is circling the club or that he is oblivious to the fact that there is something significantly wrong with this Arsenal side. If he can transfer some of that anger and defiance to the players, then I’m sure we can put a fight against Bayern. Otherwise, the match will be best viewed from behind your hands.
Three players will not be affected by the debacle of the defeat to Blackburn and these 3 players will have to be the leaders for tonight. Per Mertesacker, Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla, Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski will all come straight back into the starting line-up and we will be looking for them to inspire the team. Podolski and Mertesacker will have some internal knowledge on how Bayern play and their comprehension of the language might even help us on defending set pieces.
Walcott will come in refresh and hopefully will be able to unleash his speed to terrorise the German defence. He has to exert his influence on the game and push his marker back. That would mean David Alaba will be restricted from supporting his team’s attack and that limits one possible danger. Phillip Lahm is more experienced and could be switched over is Alaba finds it tough to deal with Walcott. If that happens, Lahm will be a much tougher opponent to handle.
Last but not least is the pair of Cazorla and Wilshere. The very soul of our team and the creativity hub of which the team feeds on. Having two options to be the playmaker is a blessing and one which we must utilise. The question arises whether Wenger wants to leave Mikel Arteta as the lone screen in front of our fragile defence when Bayern has such a strong midfield. If Wilshere is pulled back a little and interchanges with Arteta, that would rob us of the drive that the young English lad brings.
Cazorla seem to relish playing wide than central, though it’s a much more flexible position than the term suggest. He’s able to drift in-field as well as allow Kieran Gibbs to push forward. That scenario is less likely to happen with Thomas Vermaelen as the makeshift left back. I guess, it depends on whether Wenger goes with Olivier Giroud up top. If he does, then assuming all these rested players starts, Wilshere will be alongside Arteta. If not, another central midfielder like Aaron Ramsey or Abou Diaby will slot in.
Another section to worry about, is the defence. While Bacary Sagna was immense in the win at Sunderland, playing as a centre back, Bayern is a different fish altogether. Fingers crossed that Laurent Koscielny will be able to pass the fitness test, otherwise we could have 2 defenders playing in a non-customary role in our back four. Not the best option going into a critical Champions League knock out tie.
During his press conference yesterday, Arteta hinted that we should started brighter and better than we have in recent games. While I agree with that, I can also accept if we started defensively better shape than we have. For, we play the first leg at home and that’s an advantage. Because of the away goals rule, I have come to believe that playing the second leg away has become an advantage. We don’t have to force matters tonight. If we win, then it’s good but if we could pull through with a scoreless draw tonight, it would be an excellent result.
Barcelona at home or Manchester United at home? Which Arsenal side will turn up in this Champions League match?