Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Arsenal's Trip To Bayern Munich Previewed

Arsenal face the daunting task of a trip to Bayern Munich tonight in the second leg of their Champions League last 16 tie. To make matters worse they go into the game with a 2-0 deficit to make up after losing the first leg at home. That game was very even until Wojciech Szczesny got his marching orders shortly before half time and Bayern took advantage of the extra man to score twice.

Bayern are running away with their domestic league and have now matched Arsenal's invincibles by going 49 league games unbeaten. They look like they will be unbeaten in the league this season and they just don't lose games at home in particular. They're the current champions of Europe and are rightly favourites to retain that trophy despite some very tough opposition.

Of course it's easy to dominate a domestic league when your club can afford to buy the best players from their opponents every season. Any player in Germany who looks good enough usually ends up at Bayern or leaving to ply their trade in another country. They can afford to have a huge squad filled with quality players and it helps them to dominate at home.

For all of their excellence they are not unbeatable though and Arsenal gave them a real run for their money when it was 11 v 11 in the first leg. Things might have been different if Mesut Ozil hadn't missed an early penalty for Arsenal or if the referee chose not to send Szczesny off when he awarded Bayern a penalty. Arsenal made chances early in that game and that early performance will give them hope for tonight.

It also has to be remembered that Bayern have only lost at home once since Arsenal beat them at this exact stage of the same competition last season and that was against Manchester City. Their 2-0 win that night was not enough for Arsenal as Bayern went through on the away goals rule and went on to lift the trophy. It does show that they can be beaten at home though and that Arsenal are capable of doing so.

With Szczesny suspended tonight Lukasz Fabianski will deputise for him and Kieran Gibbs will miss out too through injury. Laurent Koscielny will be fit to return though and resume his excellent central defensive partnership with Per Mertesacker. The big question is who will replace Gibbs with Nacho Mobreal also out injured. 

There are three options and I'm not so sure which is the best of them. First of all Bacary Sagna could switch to the left with Carl Jenkinson coming in on the right, but Jenkinson has a lot to learn at this level still and Bayern will target any supposed weak links in the Arsenal team. Mathieu Flamini could play there too as he has done many years ago when Arsenal went all the way to the 2007 Champions League final, but his services will surely be needed in midfield. The final and most likely option is Thomas Vermaelen who looked very rusty at times in central defence at the weekend, but is the most likely to get the nod in my opinion.

At least Mikael Arteta will be available again after sitting out the first leg through suspension and I expect the Arsenal midfield and attack to be unchanged from Saturday with one exception. I would be very surprised if Yaya Sanogo was chosen ahead of Olivier Giroud for this game and Giroud staked his claim for a place by scoring twice after replacing Sanogo on Saturday against Everton. I thought Sanogo was off the pace in that game, but he did look good in his previous appearances and one of them was in the first leg against Bayern.

If Arsenal are to have any chance tonight I think they have to get the first goal just to see how Bayern react. When they did just that in the game last season Bayern weren't sure what approach to take and ended up a little confused before losing 2-0. That scoreline was of course just good enough to see Bayern progress and they didn't look back as they went on to lift the trophy.

Arsenal's chances are slim to say the least tonight but that gives the players a free shot at it really. No matter what anyone says nobody really expects them to make it through to the next stage and there can be no outcry if they go out to the favourites and reigning champions. They might have won their group and got a better draw in the last 16, but that can't be changed now and there is no shame if they go out to Bayern.

There is still plenty to look forward to this season with Arsenal strong favourites to win the FA Cup and still in with a shout in the Premier League. I haven't given up all hope tonight and I will be over the moon if Arsenal win or better still win by enough to knock Bayern out. It's a highly unlikely scenario but hoping it happens is what supporting your team is all about. 

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.