There are some who believe fortune favors the bold. I think of Joe Namath guaranteeing victory and winning the Super Bowl III. I think to that guy in a cowboy hat that was rocking a “trucker” mustache I saw at the casino put $1,000 on black, and win (yes $1,000 is a lot to those of us still paying off student loans).
I also think back to last year’s 2nd leg Champions League game vs Bayern in Munich. After getting out-classed at home 3-1, Arsene Wengers men were put into a corner. But before the daunting 2nd leg, one that was to be played in Munich against arguably the best team in the world, Arsene decided “nobody puts baby in the corner”. His team put a huge emphasis on their attacking style in the second leg, sending men forward at an incredible rate with little concern of conceding. The focus was on scoring goals and getting men forward. It was to play the attacking style the team is built for to the greatest effect…and they did. Winning 2-0, it made clear for me what is important in European competition, scoring goals.
With the away goal rule always flying overhead, like an eagle circling its prey ready to snatch well-earned results away from you and ruining all that you’ve worked for (think PSG vs Barcelona last year), many teams opt for the theory of park the bus at home, and let loose away. Focus on defense at home, and focus on attack away. While this is a rational theory, derived from logic, I see tournament play as an opportunity to take a chance.
Arsenal must line up with an attacking formation. Arsenal’s squad has been built in a way to promote possession and clever intricate attacking play. As we saw in last year’s second leg, this squad is capable of doing just that on the biggest stage. I would love to see Arsenal line up in an attacking 4-3-3 formation. 2 of the middle 3 focused on attack and 1 holding midfielder. With Flamini back in the squad, who clearly had a positive impact defensively against Liverpool this weekend, he can sit in front of the defense looking to plug passing lanes and force decisions from attacking players, not to mention dish out a few bruises in the process. With his astute positional play, it will allow the other two central midfielders (most likely Wilshere and Ozil) to get forward and make runs through the middle into the box.
Who is deployed on the wing will be a hard decision to make for Wenger. With Cazorla, Podolski and Oxlade-Chamberlin all available, it seems like you can’t go wrong. Santi Cazorla clearly has the most class among the three. Since he is fully healthy, I would think he’s a sure-win for one of the wings. Chamberlin and Podolski are both coming off great games against Liverpool at the weekend and neither played a full 90 minutes so they should be fresh. With Podolski you get experience against German sides and sure finishing, but with Oxlade-Chamberlin you get a freakishly athletic young talent who seems to surprise us with what he’s capable of each game.
Our defensive style must be non-stop pressure further up the pitch, and patient opportunistic defending in our own half. Pep Guardiola will undoubtedly have his team lined up as he has with any team he’s coached. Free flowing movement with the emphasis on the short passing style of his Tiki-Taka offense. His teams are more than happy to take their time. Like a patient killer, they will hide in the bushes waiting for the right time to strike. Their zen-like patience as a team means they will likely pass the ball backwards to keep possession more then they will force it forward. When that happens, we need to recognize the opportunity to keep the ball out of our own half and press forward up the pitch. When you commit numbers forward offensively, you also want to be able to keep those numbers forward defensively, which is easier to do when the ball is in your attacking half.
The back four will have to be weary of the long ball behind the defense. Inevitably Bayern will have possession and numbers inside our defensive area. When that occurs, we must be like a shield. Every player must look to fill the ever changing passing lanes that Bayern’s movement will create. Our strikers and wingers on the side of the ball will need to drop back into defensive positions so we aren’t out-numbered. When we regain possession it is vital that we keep it. Breaking up their midfield play will be difficult, but will provide counter-attacking opportunities. However, when we regain possession deep in our own half, we will be pressured immediately, and how creative/responsible we are in those situations could define the game.
If Arsenal can take advantage of their time with the ball by getting numbers forward and putting Bayern on the back heel, we can score goals and win the game. But we will need a committed and all-around performance from every man who steps on that pitch, for the enemy is coming, and we must aim for their heart.