Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Arsenal v Bayern Munich Preview

It's Champions League action for Arsenal tonight and it doesn't get any tougher than a tie against the reigning champions. There is no doubt Bayern Munich are the best team in Europe at the moment as they stroll to another domestic league title and are the current holders of the Champions League trophy. Arsenal's reward for finishing second in their group is a daunting task, but it's certainly not an impossible one.

The clubs met at the same stage last season and Bayern came to Arsenal and won 3-1 in the first leg. Arsenal were written off for the return leg, but they went there and won 2-0 only to go out on the away goals rule. That night in Munich was a turning point for this Arsenal team as they found some belief and have looked like a different team ever since.

Arsenal have an excellent defensive record at home this season and the goal Liverpool scored on Sunday was the first one they conceded at home in eight games. They haven't faced a team with the capabilities of Bayern in that time though and their defensive strength will be severely tested tonight. They will have to be at their very best to keep Bayern out and will have to ride their luck on occasions too I would imagine.

The absence of Mikael Arteta due to suspension is a blow to Arsenal and Mathieu Flamini will have to work very hard in his defensive midfield role. In fact every single player will have to work hard to track back and defend when Arsenal don't have the ball and with a team like Bayern that could be quite often. The players on the bench will be required to put in a shift too when called upon and I can't imagine Arsene Wenger not using all three substitutes tonight.

I think most of the team more or less picks itself with Wojciech Szczesny, Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs all certain to return in defence. Olivier Giroud will come back in to the central strikers role and I think Santi Cazorla will play on the left with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right. In midfield it's a straight choice between Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky with Arteta out, but neither of them play as deep as Arteta would have done.

I think Wilshere will get the nod, but on current form Rosicky might be the wiser choice. Wilshere hasn't been at his best in recent games and has given the ball away in dangerous positions far too often. If he does that against Bayern they will make Arsenal pay for it and Wilshere cannot hold on to the ball too long or make blind passes if he plays. I have no doubt he will be a fantastic player, but he's just going through a dodgy patch at the moment and needs to concentrate a little harder on his game.

There is a case for Chanberlain playing in the centre of midfield, but I think his pace in the wide role could be very important as it was against Liveroool. He's an outlet for Mesut Ozil to find with his fantastic passing and there aren't too many others with Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey injured. Giroud doesn't exactly sit on the shoulder of the last defender looking to get in behind defences.

A win would be a great result for Arsenal but a scoreless draw wouldn't be too bad either as they have shown they can get a result away to Bayern before. At worst they will be knocked out over the two legs by the reigning champions and best team in the competition and there's no shame in that. That's not a scenario I want but as long as they keep up their challenges in the league and FA Cup it's one I could certainly live with.

For tonight though I think Arsenal might just squeeze a narrow victory by the odd goal and leave themselves with it all to play for in the second leg. The boost in confidence a win would give them would be great and hopefully it might spur them on for the finishing stretch in the other two competitions they are in with a shout of winning. Realistically I can't see Arsenal winning the Champions League this season, but they have come so far in the league and the FA Cup that they are distinct possibilities this season. I'd love to be proved wrong and see the team sweep the treble, but I'll be happy with a domestic double for this season anyway.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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