Champions League action tonight as we face the might of Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena.
Holding a 2-0 lead from the first leg it’s obvious that the Germans are strong favourites for this one. They’ve swept aside all that have come before them this season and they’re a team with a measure of invincibility about them. They play with confidence and belief, and there’s no doubt Guardiola has taken them to a new level since his arrival.
So, we’re clearly the underdogs here and that’s absolutely fine. We were underdogs last season when we arrived in Bavaria 3-1 down from the first leg and put the shits up Bayern with a 2-0 win. While the team we face tonight are certainly a better team than the one that we played last year, this Arsenal team is in much better shape than the one 12 months ago.
Then, we’d been struggling for consistency all season; we’d lost to Blackburn in the FA Cup; got beaten at White Hart Lane; and pretty much everyone thought we were going to get well and truly turned over in the second game. Instead, the manager made a couple of brave team choices, we got an early goal, withstood wave after wave of Bayern pressure, and got a second goal late on which scared them to no end.
It was a game which gave our season a shot in the arm. If we could go to Munich and win, why should we fear any Premier League opponent? It was a result that played a massive part in our run for the top four, and it’s hard not to look back and wonder what might have been if it had played out like most people had said.
There are those who will say lightning can’t strike twice, but look at Wigan in the FA Cup this season and last. And let’s not forget that in the first leg we were very much in the game, and should have been ahead, before Robben nearly died when he was lightly grazed by Wojciech Szczesny who misses tonight’s game because of the suspension for nearly killing Robben with a slight touch of his shinpad which sent the Dutchman spinning into the air like General Zod in a mirror.
After that it was backs to the wall defending and while one goal was inevitable, the second was a touch careless. For all Bayern’s metronomic, at times tedious, pass pass pass pass pass football, I thought we defended quite well with just 10 men. It would have been really interesting to see how that game had played out 11 v 11 and hopefully we don’t see the spectacle ruined tonight with another sending off (unless it’s Neuer in which case that would be fantastic, thanks ref!).
So, bearing that in mind; the confidence boosting 4-1 win over Everton at the weekend; and the fact we go into this game with no pressure and nothing much to lose, we might as well have a good go at it. It is unlikey? Yes, of course. Is it improbable? Sure. But impossible? No. You just never know what might happen and it’s clear the players and the manager are thinking of last season.
Last year does create more belief that the result is possible.
Hopefully we can keep a clean sheet first because we need to keep our goal clean and maybe if we score early, why not?
The history, with last year, is important. We know we can do it this time because we already did it last year. It is a possible task for us.
And it will surely be in the back of Bayern minds too. Last season we had to score three goals, this time around a repeat of last year’s scoreline will force the game into extra-time. If we nick one early, as in 2013, or as we should have at the Emirates with the penalty that Ozil missed, then who knows how it might go?
In terms of the team there’s no left-back available to the manager with Gibbs and Monreal both out injured, and he says that Thomas Vermaelen is an option there. He’s certainly the most obvious one, but I still find the idea of all our centre-halves lining up in the one game a bit on the scary side. Needs must though, the alternative is Sagna moving there and Jenkinson at right back. It’s probably forgotten that Jenks played in Munich last season, but I think having Sagna there might just unbalance us a bit too much.
Further forward, I suspect he might try and find a place for Tomas Rosicky but I’d be very much inclined to stick with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain whose pace and directness caused so many problems for Everton at the weekend. It’s a game we have to have a go in, and he gives us something that nobody else in the squad can right now. Other than that I think it’s as you were from the weekend, with Arteta and Flamini anchoring the midfield which is likely to be the crucial battleground.
As I said, there’s no expectation that we can turn things around, which may well allow us to play with a kind of freedom that proves dangerous to more illustrious opponents. Obviously we have to be mindful of how good they are, we can’t go gung-ho, but hopefully we get a match that lives up to the promise of the first half an hour at our place a few weeks back.
Remember, if you can’t see the game – as time zones mean many of you will be in work – we’ll have full live blog coverage for you. It works on all your devices, desktop and mobile, so you can sneakily follow the game while in the middle of that important meeting which isn’t as important as the game, obviously. Just keep sitting when we score that late winner.
Check back here an hour or so before kick off for a post with all the details or bookmark our default live blog page and updates will begin automatically.