Arsenal fans will be calling on the ghost of seasons past when their beloved North London outfit take on Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena with a place in the UEFA Champions’ League quarterfinals up for grabs.
Bayern carry a massive advantage of three away goals as they beat a hapless Arsenal 3-1 in the first leg of this fixture three weeks ago at the Emirates Stadium, and the light at the end of the tunnel seems to be going out for the Gunners in this season’s European campaign.
The Emirates faithful will however be quick to remind you of a somewhat similar scenario back in their 2003/2004 European campaign, where Arsenal were left teetering on the brink of elimination from the group stages of the competition. Thierry Henry and co. travelled to Milan to face Inter Milan knowing that a loss would eliminate them from Europe’s premier club competition at the first hurdle-the group stages.
They had lost the reverse fixture 3-0 at Highbury, and thus the Italians carried both the psychological and home advantage going into the fixture. 90 minutes later however and Arsenal ran out 5-1 victors at the San Siro.
Of course it would take a Herculean effort and probably a bit of luck if the Gunners were to repeat this feat away to the German giants, who are 20 points clear in their domestic campaign…a scary prospect for any opposition.
The task has been made even harder with the announcement that Jack Wilshere will miss the tie with an ankle injury. But if Arsenal were to do the impossible, who would have to stand up for them and what will they have to do?
Arsenal’s first-choice keeper will need a first-class performance if his side are to get anything from the Allianz Arena. Given Arsenal’s defensive shortcomings, the Pole will more often than not find himself as the last line of defence against a star-studded Munich attack. While Szczesny’s shot-stopping abilities have never been in doubt, it is his other qualities that will most certainly be tested. Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger is known to favour playing with a high line, and on the odd occasion Arsenal will be undone by the likes of Arjen Robben, Thomas Muller and Mario Mandzukic.
Szczesny’s timing of his forward runs and ability to defend one-on-ones will be key to shutting Bayern out. He has also been suspect at coming for crosses and balls into the box due to his erratic decision-making, and with fullbacks like Philip Lahm going forward Szczesny and his defence will certainly have their hands full. It will not be easy for Arsenal, but it all starts with Szczesny.
Should the Welsh midfielder, who has improved greatly in recent weeks; start against Bayern Munich, his off-the-ball input is what will be most required. He will have to plug the gaps in the middle of the park, and alongside Mikel Arteta will have to do their utmost to protect their back four and to prevent Robben and co. from running directly at his defenders. He will be crucial to Arsenal maintaining their defensive shape and organization. When on the ball, he will have to keep things simple and keep the ball for as long as possible, an easier task with Arteta alongside him. He will have to pick his moments going forward though; the last thing Arsenal need is to be caught on the counter.
The Spanish attacking maestro has orchestrated Arsenal’s attack for the entirety of the season, and if there is anyone who can produce something truly special in a big game then it definitely is him. Big games sometimes hinge on magical moments from magical players, and Cazorla is capable of delivering for Arsene Wenger. First however, Bayern are exceptional at keeping the ball so his defensive discipline will of course be imperative to the Gunners’ cause. While on the ball, possession is key to maintaining control of this game so he will have to be at his best to not give the ball away needlessly. This therefore means that his decision-making will be key, so as to know when and when not to take risks. His ability to get past players and get out of tight spots make him one of Arsenal’s transition points (turning defence into attack) and Arteta and Ramsey will look to him or Wilshere to spark counter-attacks from the middle.
Arsenal’s big centre forward may well be Arsenal’s most important player on Wednesday night. Giroud is currently going through a mini goal-drought, but there can be no errors when they take on Bayern. Clear goal-scoring opportunities will probably be at a premium for Arsenal, and a few will fall Giroud’s way.
He will need to be at his clinical best to capitalize on whatever limited opportunities will come his way. He needs to be able to hold the ball up long enough for players to be able to join him in attack. His work rate without the ball will also go a long way in stopping Bayern from playing, particularly by pressing the ball high up the field to stop them from playing the ball out from the back.
The performance of these four players has to be nothing short of flawless if Arsenal are to escape from Germany with a place in the Champions League quarterfinals.
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