Just two days short to the day, exactly one year ago, we travelled to Germany needing three goals to knock-out Bayern Munich. We managed two but couldn’t get that final goal to see us through.
We return to the same ground tonight needing at least two goals to give us a chance…. And of course, we mustn’t concede.
The teams’ performance that fateful night in Bavaria was deemed the ultimate failure steeped in honour and glory. After that victory, we went on an amazing run during which we dropped just 4 points, against Everton and Manchester United, out of a possible 30 to ensure we ended up with the trophy so craved by our ambitions board and manager for the 17th time.
But when the draw was made for this stage of the Champions League against the defending champions of the competition, we looked destined to perish at the same stage of the Champions League and against the same opponents as last season.
However, Senor Guardiola was quoted as saying “I have never won here, “I learned that you can never dominate Arsenal for 90 minutes. You can dominate for 30 minutes, to half-time, for 75 minutes, but for 90 minutes it is impossible. Arsenal, with these quality players, you always have a problem.”
That was the respect arguably the best club team and football manager in European football had for us going into the game on the 19th of February. Some may argue that Pep was just paying lip service to our egos but looking at the team sheet just before kick-off, I was perplexed to see how cautiously the Bavarians were going to line up with only 3 attacking players in Gotze, Mandzukic and Robben as compared to the 4 very attacking players we fielded if we consider Wilshere as a defensive minded player.
Not surprising we started the game very positively as we did the previous year by testing Neuer on 2 occasions within the first few minutes. We even won a penalty on the 7th minute but we all know what transpired…
The general consensus by most Arsenal fans after the game was that the sending off of Wojciech Szczesny in the 37th minute was the turning point in the game. I am not so sure that was the case as leading up to the penalty that Alaba missed we had only had 3 shots on target and that included Ozil’s penalty save by Neuer.
Following Ozil’s penalty, Bayern attempted 4 attempts on goal before Szczesny was sent off without us making a single one.
In my view, the tide had turned against us more than 15 minutes before Nacho Monreal replaced Gibbs who I thought had been overloaded relentlessly by Gotze, Rafinha, Kroos, and Lahm on our left hand side. This is not questioning Gibbs ability by the way but rather the lack of protection afforded him on numerous occasions.
Before the game, most of us had identified the potential defensive weakness of our left hand side. Wenger on the other hand decided to throw caution to the wind and continued with his naive trend of not providing any protection to our fullbacks against some of the most lethal wingers in world football.
It was therefore no surprise that Bayern set out to exploit that side and compounded by Monreal’s sudden introduction into the game and going a man short as a result of the red card which was perfectly ‘orchestrated’ by Robben, it was bound to be a long night with our backs against the wall.
So the big question is do we stand a chance or will the damage which was done in London prove irreparable?
Going back and referring to the build up to the corresponding game a year ago, the club was in a bad state; our ability to finish 4th in the league was under great scrutiny after losing to our noisy neighbours 2-1 away from home at White Hart Lane. Moreover, Blackburn had beaten us 1-0 at home in the FA Cup just a few weeks before.
On this occasion we have just beaten a very strong Everton outfit convincingly with our record signing showing all the signs of the flair and ingenuity we all know he is capable of. Although our league position is not as secure as it was going into the first leg, there is a positive sense and air of expectation amongst the faithful.
Our opponents FC Bayern Munchen are smoothly sailing in all competitions they are involved in. Last weekend they racked up a record 16th successive Bundesliga win after coming from behind to beat VfL Wolfsburg 6-1 at the Volkswagen Arena. Their best player, Ribery who missed the first leg is back from his most uncommon of injuries with a superb performance and goal.
In fact it looks like the Bavarians’ who are unbeaten in a staggering 49 Bundesliga matches have no weakness for our toothless attack to exploit. But I beg to differ. As I mentioned before the first leg, I believe their centre-halves have a weakness against strong old fashioned strikers like Giroud. Even young Yaya Sanogo was able to cause the two defenders a few head-aches in the first legs.
As in most top-tier games in recent times, I believe we always ‘shoot’ ourselves in the foot by not doing the basics very well until we have gone behind. Maybe it is either due to nerves or a lack of tactical nous from our veteran manager or simply a lack of quality amongst the ranks. Some may say our line-up is always so predictable that it makes our opponents’ job very easy. Whatever our individual views and arguments are, I believe that the boys have to be mentally prepared and focused to work hard for at least 120 minutes if we can’t do the job in the initial 90 minutes.
In the ideal world I would like Wenger to change tact for once and play Serge, Ozil and Oxlade-Chamberlain in a 3-5-2 set-up so that we can match Bayern’s dynamic midfield in numbers. This will offer us the opportunity to press and stop Bayern from playing from the back.
However, I suspect Arsene will go with Giroud on his own upfront with three of Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ozil and Rosicky behind him. Then play the experienced duo of Arteta and Flamini in a fluid formation which may translate to 4-2-4 if we score very early on in the game to mimic the performance against Napoli at the Emirates’ last year.
I am not so sure playing a back 4 which translates to a back 2 or 3 at best when we are on the attack is the best way to claw back a two goal deficit in the Allianz Arena. It’s clear that our fullbacks are unrealistically expected to provide both the width we need to have a good performance as well do their primary defensive duties.
Although playing our usual way on paper has an attacking edge, on this occasion we will be gambling on the clinical prowess of Ribery and Robben who will give Sagna and any deputising left-back another torrid time on the flanks. There is also the issue of the likes of Muller, Kroos and possibly Lahm playing in the area right in-front of our back four, thereby outnumbering our defensive midfielder for the night.
Our club captain may find himself thrown into the deep-end as Gibbs’s replacement since both our first choice Left-backs will be missing this crucial tie. I strongly believe that this injury gives us an ideal opportunity for Arsene to play a back three of Sagna, Per and Koscielny. Vermaelen, Arteta and Flamini should then be deployed in midfield with a dynamic front four of Ozil, Giroud, Alex and possibly Podolski or Rosicky.
If we are to inflict a defeat, similar to the one that ended Bayern’s 6 months winning streak at home when we won away in Bavaria last year, Arsene will have to dust off all his managerial manuals or go back to the drawing board.
Since in football anything can happen, my wish is that Dante and Neuer end up getting sent off in the first half giving us every opportunity to eliminate Bayern in order to continue the trend of no club being able to retain the Champions League trophy in modern times…
Finally, as the saying goes, there is no harm in dreaming and adding to the fact the ‘football gods’ somewhere smiled on us last weekend and allowed Wigan to defeat Man City in the FA, it is sane to say anything is possible so far as we are prepared to put in the shift during the entirety of the game…
Come on you gunners!
Written by Tsgh