We face Bayern for the 2nd time in two weeks and I’m really intrigued how this game will play out.
Ideally, we need at least a point from the game. That doesn’t mathematically guarantee us safe passage, because there is a chance Olympiacos will get more than three points in the next two games, but let’s face it: the likelihood of them clinching even a point at the Allianz Arena is minimal. They were thrashed 3-0 at home and I expect the encounter between them and the Germans to be just as one-sided (if not more) in the return fixture. So us drawing Bayern and then winning the remaining two matches should be enough to go through.
However, I’ll be delighted if we win tomorrow, for several reasons. Firstly, it will light a fire of epic proportions under Pep’s arse: a win will mean we will leapfrog Bayern and the fate of the first place will remain firmly in our hands. Such an outcome will have the added benefit of Bayern thrashing Olympiacos and Zagreb in the hope we drop points.
Secondly, Bayern players have been getting cocky lately. They were extremely arrogant and patronising before the clash at the Emirates and look how it worked out for them. The Bavarians regained their swagger a bit lately (after thrashing Koln and Wolfsburg) and started to spout crap like:
“We’ll show Arsenal the real Bayern on Wednesday. This time we’ll use our chances and take the three points.” – Vidal
“Arsenal pulled everyone back at their place and I guess it’ll be pretty much the same again.”
And even Neuer chipped in:
“Perhaps they will play even more defensively as in the away game.”
That’s their hurt pride talking and I, for one, am very glad to know their pride is hurt. They shouldn’t have taken as so lightly, they got punished for it and are now angry at themselves.
I’ll get to what our players (and the manager) said in the tactics section, because their words are indicative of the approach we are likely to adopt. For now, team news.
Team news update
Hector Bellerin is out through injury. Arsene didn’t specify which, only said it’s nothing major, but the Spaniard is definitely out of the Bayern clash. Sob.
Truth be told, there is only one player in the current starting XI an injury to whom wouldn’t have been the end of the world: Mertesacker. Gabriel would come in and do fine. Everyone else is irreplaceable, especially in the light of our many injuries. An injury to any of Cech, Koscielny (to a lesser extent), Monreal, Coquelin, Cazorla, Ozil, Alexis, Giroud or even Campbell would make us go through the roof.
That’s the problem of having a short bench and that’s why it was so important not to suffer any injuries before the break: we don’t really have players to stand in for the current ones. An injury to a defender is slightly different in that we have (or rather, had) all 8 defenders available, so there is, at least nominally, an alternative.
However, the truth is such we have complete faith only in Gabriel. I also love Chambers, but he’s 4th choice and won’t play before Gabriel anyway. Our fullbacks, on current form, are atrocious. I don’t think Debuchy and Gibbs are atrocious overall, but they are badly out of form right now.
The manager said he has “confidence and trust” in Debuchy and I only hope these are founded on something we don’t know of, otherwise we might as well just jack it in and kiss any hopes of getting any positive result goodbye, because Debuchy will get roasted by Costa.
Squad and approach
“I would sign today to take a point but to sit off Bayern. But with their offensive quality, that would be difficult to maintain for 90 minutes.
We have to relieve the pressure whenever we can and try to score goals. That is the structure of our team, to attack.
If we set out our players only to defend then I don’t think we’ll be so efficient. We have to play every time we can.” – Wenger
“They will be angry. We are the first team that really challenged them and beat them in the end. So they will try to show they are better than us.
“We showed that we can beat them. That’s a good sign but it will be a different game at their place. Both teams have got a good chance to go through to the knockout stages.
“We improved our position in the last game but we need to get something out of this game. That puts pressure on us to perform.” – Mertesacker
“I think at home we were able to impose ourselves a lot more. We attacked a bit more but I think when we play away, we also have to have a slightly different outlook.
That doesn’t mean we’ll spend the whole game defending. We’re a big team, we’re Arsenal and we need to attack because we need the result.
But we need to attack with intelligence and make sure we don’t suffer a defeat and complicate our situation for the rest of our competition.” – Gabriel
All of this looks to me like we’ll defend more than attack. Simply put, we’ll try to do roughly what we did at home and hope it works again.
I have no problem with that. We rarely adopt a more guarded approach, so there’s nothing shameful in admitting the opponent can best you in an open encounter and doing your best to prevent it by not sticking out your neck.
The problem can be the execution. Last time around we had Ramsey and Walcott to help us spring counters, this time we do not. We don’t even have Oxlade, whose direct and powerful dribbling could have come in handy. But we do have Giroud, so booting it long towards the Frenchman is on. We’ll just need runners in-behind, someone who can benefit from playing off of Giroud.
Our best options would be Alexis and Campbell or Alexis and Ozil. However, I doubt very much Wenger will shift Ozil wide, because that can both disrupt the rhythm of our midfield and create a hole we can’t fill. Our only fit midfielder is Flamini and I don’t want him anywhere near the starting XI against Bayern.
Another possible scenario is using Gibbs in the more advanced position. Frankly, I’m not a huge fan of such a plan. Gibbs just doesn’t offer much as a winger. Now that we (sadly) don’t have Bellerin, we can’t even consider using the Spaniard as a winger with either Debuchy or Chambers behind him.
Apart from that I can see Wenger pondering only one further change: Gabriel for Mertesacker. Mertesacker looked a bit off against Swansea, but the only reason I can see him hooked is the exhaustion levels. Should he start, it would be Mert’s third start inside a week. If the consequence of overplaying the German is him being slightly off, then Gabriel should start.
However, I see no other reason to drop him. Firstly, because Mert is the captain and dropping your captain can have a demoralising effect on your team (Terry anyone?) Secondly, because Mertesacker has been ever-present in our backline in all of our big wins this season (something that also hints at his contribution in these games). Finally, he produced a defensive masterclass during our home clash vs Bayern and that’s not me saying it. So I fully expect him to start, barring a last-minute hindrance.
Predicted line-up: Cech – Debuchy – Mertesacker – Koscielny – Monreal – Coquelin – Cazorla – Ozil – Alexis – Campbell – Giroud
It will be tough. I think it’ll be even tougher than at the Emirates, because Bayern won’t underestimate us this time, they’ll have Robben back and they’ll be determined to prove everyone they are better than us.
But it’s not an impossible task to beat them. We’ve done it before, with an inferior squad compared to the one we currently can field. Under different circumstances, but still. We know what is required.
So come on you Gunners. Wipe these smirks of the Germans’ faces.