In this highly anticipated Champions League clash, let’s take a look at the two teams that are still vying for numerous cups in both leagues. The High flying Gunners have recently slowed down a bit with a congestion of extremely tough fixtures. Their 2-1 victory over Liverpool in the FA Cup on Sunday was, however, a welcome morale booster. Arsenal was recently walloped 5-1 by Liverpool in the league just the week before, with a lackluster performance on Wednesday against Manchester United resulting in a 0-0 draw. Bayern, on the other hand, have been flying high under new Coach Pep Guardiola, winning their last five games comfortably.
Players to Watch:
There are a few exciting matchups for us to keep an eye on in this fixture. With two exciting possession teams going head to head, will Mesut Ozil step up to the plate in this crucial first leg? He will most likely be surrounded by Flamini, Rosicky, Carzola and the player to watch for me Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain. The “Ox”, as he is affectionately called, has found premium form since coming back from injury. With Kroos, Martinez and Thiago all fit and in form, I expect Lahm to return to his natural wingback position as well as Alaba at the other wing back.
A recently fit Schweinsteiger could be used as a sub for Martinez or Kroos, and the team would be equally or even more dangerous. Dante and Boateng are as solid as they get and should be holding down the center back positions. Arsenal will have to be particularly careful in playing a high defensive line, as Pep’s Bayern play a deceptively quick 4-3-3 which can quickly wreak havoc on your defense, especially if your wingbacks tend to overlap a lot i.e.; Gibbs and Sagna.
In the absence of Ribery and recent injury to Shaqiri, I expect Bayern to line up Gotze on the left, with Mandzukic in the center, and Robben on the right. Mertersacker and Koscielny have been great this season, with just a few off games. However, it has mostly been Koscielny’s speed/aggression and Mert’s size and reading of the game that has led to this success. This will be the ultimate litmus test for the pair, as this Bayern team attacks in lethal waves like an angry Ocean with no stop. Bayern’s wingers may have to stay more central on the pitch when they don’t have the ball. Arsenal midfielders tend to play close and compact, which could prove to be too much to cover for Kroos, Shweinsteiger and Thiago.
Keys to Victory:
While both teams are very good at keeping possession and controlling the tempo of the game, Arsenal’s possession sometimes tends to be less penetrative; they move and contain the ball very well but with not much purpose. Bayern, on the other hand, is “possession with purpose”, always going towards the flank or the goal, they are a no nonsense assault.
The Gunners must use their flanks as much as possible and support the lone striker, Giroud, as much as possible when they give him the ball. Bayern must support their midfielders as much as possible, as the Gunners may have as much as five players around the ball with the wingbacks offering an option on the flanks. Arsenal cannot afford to waste any time or opportunities in this game, as they would not want to take a bad result into the Allianz Arena next month.