Emirates Stadium, London
19 Feb 2013, 19:45 GMT
The Champions League brings with itself some of the most romantic tales and then there are tales of 2 teams with contrasting fortunes and seasons. Arsenal versus Bayern Munich looks a foregone conclusion on paper especially going by recent form, but then that is exactly what makes this such an exciting and huge game for both sides. When Arsenal finished runners up in Group B, they knew they were living dangerously. The round of 16 draw saw them realize their worst fears as they drew 4 time Champions League winners Bayern Munich in a repeat of their 2004-05 clash. This isn’t the first time Arsenal come across a team from German land this season, having already entertained Schalke in the group stages and coming out second best to the Gelsenkirchen club. But Bayern Munich are at a different level altogether.
15 points clear at the top, 57 goals scored, 7 goals conceded, 1 game lost and already running away with the Bundesliga title with almost 3 months left, Bayern Munich are the talk of the town. The last time Bayern lost a game this season, was back in October and their unbeaten run seems to be galvanizing them to newer heights. The acquisition of Guardiola for next season, the success of their summer signings and boasting the best defence in the top 5 leagues across Europe mean the sun is shining bright in Munich. Yet the Champions League continues to elude the German powerhouse, and the hunger and desire for the same dwarfs all other achievements and potential achievements. Runners up in 2 of the last 3 seasons, Bayern must feel hard done by after going all the way to the final. The 15 point cushion in the league means they can put all their eggs in one basket for now and concentrate on dismantling the distraught Gunners, whose season seems to hit a low with every passing weekend.
The North Londoners have convincingly put behind their glory days and have looked a club lacking direction in recent times. Defeat at the hands of Blackburn Rovers at the Emirates means Arsenal will be without a trophy again this season, unless they can win the Champions League in May, something they have never done in their illustrious history. In order to make further progress they need to dispatch the mighty Bavarians first. Unlike their clash against Milan last season, Arsenal go into the game as massive underdogs which can be a good thing for Arsene Wenger’s men who would like to avenge their FA Cup upset with a win over the Bundesliga leaders.
Team News & Tactics
Arsene Wenger doesn’t have any new injury concerns before the big match and will have an almost fully fit squad to pick from minus Kieran Gibbs who seems to be recovering well enough to be in contention for the return leg. Arsenal’s deadline day signing Nacho Monreal isn’t eligible to play in the Champions League, being cup tied with Malaga. This leaves Arsene Wenger with the option of either playing Thomas Vermaelen at left back or one of Jenkinson/Sagna with the other slotting in at right back. The fact that Thomas Muller has been in sensational form this season, could force Wenger’s hand here and we might see Vermaelen start on the left with Koscielny and Mertesacker playing in the centre.
Jack Wilshere’s fitness was a major concern after the youngster hobbled off against Sunderland. But after his cameo on Saturday, he should be one of the first names on the Arsenal team sheet. Arteta would continue to play the anchor role in the middle and with Diaby’s indifferent form, Wenger might consider his other options. Ramsey has been brilliant in whatever limited playing time he has got and might stake claim for a starting spot. But fitting Ramsey in the side looks unlikely with Wenger inclined towards fielding all 4 of Walcott, Giroud, Cazorla and Podolski meaning Jack and Arteta play as the pivots.
Cazorla and Podolski will interchange throughout the game and Giroud will drop deeper and create space for Walcott to run and cause damage to the German backline. The Gunners must identify the weakest link in the German defence and Alaba can be identified as the only one with a slight weakness. The young Austrian has immesne pace, yet his lack of tackling and playing safe means Walcott could cause trouble down the right hand side. Keeping possession has to be the key. The Arsenal attack is good enough to unlock defence and with Giroud dropping deep and dragging players out, the movement of Jack, Santi, Poldi and Theo could become extremely tricky for the water tight Bayern defence.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-2-3-1): Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen; Arteta, Wilshere; Podolski, Walcott, Cazorla; Giroud
The German giants travel to North London after 8 years and would hope to avoid a repeat of their 1-0 defeat back then. Bayern will be without summer signing Claudio Pizarro and long term absentee Holger Badstuber. Jerome Boateng will serve his suspension against Arsenal meaning Jupp Heynckes will field Lahm, van Buyten, Dante and Alaba at the back. The Bavarians beat Wolfsburg away on Friday night and will be hoping for a similar away performance in England.
Bayern Munich were one of the first sides in Europe to play the 4-2-3-1 formation week in week out and will line up in a similar fashion on Tuesday night. Martinez is back to full fitness and the Spaniard along with Schwiensteiger will look to protect the defence against a potent Arsenal side. Despite playing away from home, there is no way the Germans would go into a shell. The biggest strength for Bayern lies on their wings with Muller and Ribery showing fantastic work ethic and posing constant threats on the counter. A well organized midfield and defence means they are well adept to contain any sort of threat from the home side and then hit them on the break.
Kroos will start as the attacking midfielder with Mandzukic upfront who will be supported on the wings by Ribery and Muller. The overlapping Lahm and Alaba will make life difficult for Sagna and Vermaelen. Despite their attacking potential, the raw pace and counter attacking threat posed by the Arsenal front 4 wouldn’t have escaped Heynckes’ plans, and this is the exact reason why Martinez will sit way deeper, adding an extra body in defence. This will not only add steel and protection to the backline but also allow Schweinsteiger to wander farther attacking wise. Mandzukic’s hot streak continues and in case the Germans can’t break down Arsenal’s defence they always have some very capable substitutes in Robben, Shaqiri and Gomez who are all potential match winners.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-2-3-1): Neuer; Lahm, van Buyten, Dante, Alaba; Schweinsteiger, Martinez; Kroos, Ribery, Muller; Mandzukic
- Arsenal and Bayern Munich have faced each other 4 times, with Arsenal winning 1, Bayern winning 2 and 1 match ending in a draw.
- Arsenal had their 5 match unbeaten streak snapped when they lost to Blackburn
- Bayern have conceded only 1 away goal in the league and 7 overall in 22 matches, but they conceded 7 goals in their 6 Champions League games.
- Arsenal have conceded 14 goals in 2013. Bayern have conceded 0.
Player To Watch Out For
Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich)
The German international has been in sumptuous form this season, having 11 goals and 9 assists to his name in the league. He has been awarded the man of the match on 4 occasions and continues to impress in big games. His finishing has improved and with his brilliant link up play with Kroos and Lahm he will be a constant thorn for the Arsenal defenders. To top that Arsenal don’t have a natural left back for this game, and Muller would be looking to feast upon whoever is given the task of playing the left most in defence.
Arsenal 1-1 Bayern Munich
Teams are usually cautious in the first leg and conceding too many isn’t a good idea. Thus we can expect a slightly tense affair with both sides being watchful yet delivering each other blows at the opportune moment. The game won’t open up unless the first goal is scored and if Bayern take the lead it could become a very tiring night for the Gunners. Still think they have got enough in them to penetrate this Bayern defence.