Arsenal vs. Bayern Preview

I won’t lie. I probably won’t have the guts to watch this one. As much as I hope we can continue our strong form in the home legs of UCL matches in the knock-out rounds, whether it’s a near-miraculous comeback last year against AC Milan, crushing Porto by five, or beating Barcelona 2-1. The statistics, this year more than most, not to mention the momentum, just don’t give us much to hang our hats on, as the saying goes. The nearest proxy I can find is that Bayern has beaten Schalke, a team we lost at home 0-2 and tied away 2-2, by scores of 2-0 and 4-0. Schalke may have done well enough to qualify for this year’s UCL, but this year sees them sitting 9th, scrabbling for Europa League qualifying. Our struggles against them do not bode well. Bayern, by contrast, has lost just two games in all competitions, having conceded seven Bundesliga goals while scoring 57. While it’s true that they’ve conceded seven goals in six UCL matches (including three to BATE Borisov), this still leaves them conceding 15 goals in 35 matches while scoring 72 (including domestic cups, Bundesliga, and UCL). For what it’s worth, all of this scoring has happened with Arjen “Ray of Sunshine” Robben sulks on the bench. May that be both the first and last times that the words “Arjen”, “Robben”, and “sulks” all appear in one sentence–from my lips to God’s ears.

It’s with that in mind that we ponder our defense, porous as ever and just as prone to conceding silly goals. Koscielny is still limping, and Monreal is cup-tied. That leaves us with Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Sagna, and…Jenkinson? Miquel? Coquelin has played back there, but I’d prefer to see Ramsey drop back as he did  against Sunderland. The other gents are fine as far as they go, but given that I’d like to see us borrow from “lesser” teams (and let’s face it, at least in this leg, we are the lesser of the two teams) and get behind the ball and wait for counters, and Ramsey is better-equipped to trigger and participate in those counters. With Ramsey joining Sagna, Mertesacker, and Vermaelen, we can then field Arteta, Cazorla, Diaby, and Wilshere  in midfield and throw on Podolski with Walcott up top.

I rather like the idea of Podolski up top, having a crack at his former team. He says that there are no hard feelings after his less-than-stellar time with Bayern, but I’m sure that, deep down, he does have something to prove. He has settled in nicely with us but hasn’t played in the last two games. I hope this is down to minor injury or strategy over a possible falling-out. Whether he has any kind of insider-knowledge from his time with Bayern or the German national team is cute to consider but unlikely to yield much. The pace that he brings, not to mention that wicked left-foot, might add nicely to the counter-attacks that I think we should wait for. Bayern is a very cross-happy team, so I think that having some speed up top can take advantage of clearances to create counter-attacks.. Anam at Arseblog has written about the fear that Walcott struck into Dante’s heart when they met in the Brazil-England friendly, and although that performance has rightly put Walcott on Heyncke’s radar, adding a second  attacker with pace and finishing (sorry, Gervinho) might just keep us in this one.

Last thought before the match, t-minus 5 hours, 41 minutes: I rather like the “fire” that Wenger “unleashed” on the press during Monday’s press conference. Depending on who you ask, he’s on his way out a year early or about to sign a new deal. In either case, it’s nice to see a little bit of passion instead of that French sang-froid. Nothing like being cornered to bring out a little of the beast within. It’s almost enough to convince me that we should press ahead with the UCL. After all, it’s just as realistic as winning the Prem.

My prediction: Arsenal 1-0. Yours?

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