After getting knocked out of the FA cup on the weekend, in what can only be labelled as a completely embarrassing loss to first division side Blackburn, not many people outside of North London, and many from within as well, are giving the Gunners a legitimate shot at toppling the mighty Bayern Munich. On the line of course is a place in the Champions League Quarter Finals, with the 1st leg being played Tuesday night at The Emirates.
But wait just one damned second – this is football, and any serious fan knows the unrivaled game throws up shocks and surprises on a weekly basis. Yes, player for player Bayern would come out on top, but this didn’t stop Chelsea from winning last year’s tournament, so Arsenal does have a shot in hell in this match – a fighters chance, but a chance nonetheless.
Bayern Munich are by far the biggest and most successful team in German football with 22 Bundesliga titles and four European cups. After a comfortable 2-0 win against Wolfsburg Friday night, they are currently a staggering 18 points clear in the league so look to have that all sewn up while Arsenal have a real fight for a Champions League spot as they currently reside in 5th place. The two are world’s apart in their respective leagues, but come Tuesday night it’s 11 vs. 11, and all that means squat.
The German’s have been a little patchy away this Champions League season, with one win, one draw and a defeat in three games. Arsenal really need to make hay in the 1st leg at home as Bayern are deadly in the fortress of home ground, the Allianz Arena, as they are winners of all three games there in the group stages.
Arsenal have been very “hit and miss” all season, but they certainly do have the quality. The question, however, is which team will turn up? Your guess is as good as mine, and it’s really that simple. Consistency has eluded the Gooners all year. Many great players on show, but who are key players? The game changers? The difference makers? For Arsenal the midfield general Jack Wilshere has to boss the game like he did recently for England against Brazil. He needs to create in the final 3rd with killer passes as well as keeping the Germans quiet. Of course this is a lot to ask, but if you’ve read some of my other stuff you’d know that he is really that special. Theo Walcott will need to use his pace in the right areas to get at the defenders then produce quality crosses for the likes of Oliver Giroud and others to attack. Santi Cazorla needs to keep the ball ticking over and spark attacks with his silky skills. He has to be involved, he simply cannot go missing on the night. And lastly, Lucas Podolski. The former Bayern player needs to produce the quality he is capable of. He can really take advantage of free kicks, and the team can benefit immensely from his ability to track back.
The biggest key in my book is how Arsenal defend against the amazingly talented Bayern attacking players; Frank Ribery, Arjen Robben and ultra-talented youngster Xherdan Shaqiri. Add to that one of Mario Mandzukic, Mario Gomez or even Claudio Pizzaro – the attacking options are limitless and relentless, and trying to even work out what combination they will play is impossible. With Arsenal defenders Kieran Gibbs (injured) and Nacho Montreal(cup-tied) both out, the left full back position really could be critical to the final outcome of the tie. Ribery or Robben will eagerly be trying to exploit the makeshift Thomas Vermaelen filing in there at every opportunity. One thing is for certain – Arsenal will have to defend properly for the full 90 minutes for two legs. If they show up like they have many times this season they may as well stay at home.
So who will go through? Who will be victorious? Personally I think the first leg at The Emirates will go a long to deciding that. For me: First leg , Arsenal 1 – Bayern 1. The second leg, Bayern 2 – Arsenal 0. So, despite my particular affinity for the lads from the right part of North London, I predict the Germans to progress, though I believe it will be a very entertaining contest.
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