With January and the winter transfer window now a distant memory and February ticking along methodically, attention now turns to the Champions League again for Arsenal as Arsene Wenger’s charges prepare to take on German giants Bayern Munich in the last sixteen of Europe’s premier competition.
These preparations have been somewhat of a mixed bag; Jack Wilshere’s form continues to skyrocket, Walcott and Giroud are forming a potent attacking combination and results’ are showing a marked improvement after loses to both Man City and Chelsea in mid-January.
However concern is growing, as the treatment room is rapidly filling with a number of regulars from a backline who in all honestly, have looked shaky at full strength the majority of the season.
The biggest concern would appear to be at Left Back where the marauding Kieran Gibbs will be absent from the tie with a thigh strain. New signing Nacho Monreal has filled the void exceptionally well in the league, contributing to two, uncharacteristic clean sheets in the past two games, but having appeared in the Champions League for former club Malaga in the group stages he also, will be unavailable. Captain and make shift LB Thomas Vermaelen appears to be struggling for fitness and with calamitous Brazilian Andre Santos off to his native land on loan, the question of who will be tasked with controlling rocket-heeled Robben and co. come February 19th could be the difference between a fair shot at progression and a mauling at the hands of one of Europe’s most fearsome forward lines.
So what are the options?
Bacary Sagna: It’s fair to say the French Right Back has had his most indifferent season in an Arsenal shirt but his most recent display, away at Sunderland, showed the powerful flanker still has bundles of class which could be invaluable in such a high profile match. Sagna is extremely versatile and is more than capable of filling in on the left, with young full back Carl Jenkinson taking up the opposite position. The only problem with this plan is if French compatriot Laurent Koscielny cannot overcome the injury that forced him out of the Sunderland game. If this is the case Sagna may well be required to take up a berth in the centre of defense, as he did at the Stadium of Light.
Francis Coquelin: French holding midfielder Coquelin may have only made a handful of appearances this season but given the limitations potentially placed on Arsene Wenger it may not be a surprise to see the former serial loanee tossed into the fire. Coquelin has proved to be a versatile defensive tool in the past and has filled in at LB before. Combative and determined, Coquelin could thrive in a game where little is expected of him. Optimists shouldn’t forget… Arsenal’s run to the final in 05/06 also saw a little known French defensive-mid named Mathieu Flamini play LB for the majority of the knock out stages.
Ignasi Miguel/Sebastien Squillaci: Stalwarts of the League Cup, Ignasi Miguel & Seb Squillaci are two more names that could cross the manager’s mind. Miguel has played LB many times against lower opposition but probably lacks the experience to justify inclusion. Squillaci on the other hand has the experience but seemingly zero ability to translate this into a performance. As a result I think we’d all rather Steve Bould got his boots back on and played there ahead of the Squid.
Finding the right defensive formula for this tie could well prove to be Le Professeur’s toughest task of the season. Every option has its draw backs and in reality Arsenal will probably be going into a game against a quality Bayern Munich team with several square pegs in several round holes. However with the offensive quality in the Arsenal ranks there’s plenty for the mighty Bayern to fear from us. The back four, whoever plays there will need to give 200% for sure and with a bit of good fortune… stranger things have happened in football.