Monday, 18 February 2013

Arsenal's Champions League Game With Bayern Munich Previewed

After the bitter disappointment of going out of the FA Cup at home to Championship side Blackburn on Saturday it's back to Champions League action for Arsenal tonight. Bayern will offer a much tougher test than Blackburn did and Arsenal will have to play an awful lot better to get anything from the game. There are bound to be changes to the team after the gamble of leaving some players on the bench at the weekend backfired.

Both Per Mertesacker and Bacary Sagna should return to the defence with Thomas Vermaelen moving to left back as Kieran Gibbs is injured and Nacho Monreal cup tied. Both Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla should return in midfield with Lukas Podolski and Theo Walcott coming back into the attacking trio. The chances are both Mikael Arteta and Olivier Giroud will be the players who keep their places.

There is a train of thought that Giroud might not play as the centre of Bayern's defence might struggle with the pace of Walcott. I'm not so sure Walcott is up to the task of leading the line in such a big game and it could be a big risk to play him there. I think the trio of Podolski, Walcott and Giroud have developed a good understanding and should be the attacking players tonight.

Tomas Rosicky played very well on Saturday but I would be surprised if he played from the start tonight. I was quite surprised that Aaron Ramsey didn't play on Saturday and there is a possibility that he was being saved for tonight instead. If that is the case it might just support the theory of Giroud sitting this one out.

In the wake of the Blackburn defeat there was an admission from the manager and captain that the players minds may have been on tonight's game on Saturday. It's a shocking indictment on the team if that is the case that professional footballers couldn't focus on the job in hand because they had a bigger game coming up in three days. Most of that team on Saturday won't be playing tonight and that game should have been the ideal opportunity for them to stake a claim for more regular appearances in the team.

I expect Arsenal to be a lot more focused tonight and to be up for it from the start. They like to keep possession of the ball and try to run the opposition ragged, but that won't be so easy against Bayern. I'm sure the current runaway leaders of the German league will look to impose their own game on Arsenal.

They have some very good players in every single position and will be spurred on by the desire to emulate last season's defeat on penalties in the Champions League final. They were by far the better team on that night, but Chelsea managed to hold on for penalties and pinch the trophy. It won't be easy for Bayern even if they get past Arsenal, but they have a real chance of winning the trophy.

On the other hand it's almost seen as a victory for Arsenal to have reached this stage. They were far from impressive in their three home games in their group with victories over Olympiacos and Montpellier and a defeat against Schalke. They will have to bring their game to a completely different level to get something from this game and have a hope of progressing to the last eight.

This Arsenal team are capable of it though and they have shown in patches this season that they can play really well. Far too often those patches have been when games are already all but lost and they have rarely been at their best for a whole game. Their results against the top three teams in the Premier League so far this season show that they have not been up for it on the big occasions.

The only one of those five games so far they haven't lost was the trip to champions Manchester City when they put in a great performance and probably deserved more than the 1-1 draw they got. The ineptitude of their first half displays at home to City and Chelsea show the other side of this Arsenal team though. We have been told the players are maybe too anxious to play their best and as a result they don't click in the first half.

If they play like that against Bayern tonight the tie will be over before the away leg is even played. There can be no room for errors or for players not up to the task. The manager has to believe that every single player who takes the field tonight will play at his very best and give his all for the cause.

I'm sure he has that belief in his players anyway, but that belief has been misplaced far too often this season and for a few years previously too. Arsenal fans will accept defeat tonight or over the two legs if the players give their all and attempt to play at their best. Far too often this season they have lost games because the attitude and commitment has been all wrong.

They most certainly can't underestimate tonight's opponents and their minds will hardly be on Saturday's game at home to Villa. With the right attitude and commitment and the belief in playing their own game this team can be good enough to get a result tonight. It will be a tough task and they might have to ride their luck at times, but it's certainly not beyond them.

Time and again this season they have shattered my belief in them, but as a fan you always come back for more. That's part of what being a fan is all about. In recent seasons the highs seem to have been well outweighed by the lows, but a win tonight would be a real high.

In recent seasons both AC Milan and Barcelona have come to Arsenal and lost after great performances by the home team. It may not have been enough to see Arsenal through to the last eight on either occasion, but it showed they can compete with the best. More of the same is needed tonight if they are to have any chance of making the last eight.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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