Arsenal play German giants Bayern Munich in the first leg of their last 16 Champions League clash at the Emirates tomorrow night. The Gunners were shocked by Blackburn in the FA Cup at the weekend and will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing defeat by beating the runaway leaders in the German Bundesliga.
Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny will again have to pass a late fitness test if he is to play in this match. Arsenal are without January signing Nacho Monreal for this game as he is cup-tied in the Champions League because he played for Malaga in it earlier this season. Kieran Gibbs remains out and Andre Santos joined Gremio on loan last week, so Arsenal have no recognised left-backs to play tomorrow. Thomas Vermaelen can play there, but that could depend on whether Koscielny is fit (Sagna – Koscielny – Mertesacker – Vermaelen) or you could see Bacary Sagna switch right for left and Carl Jenkinson could play at right back (Jenkinson – Mertesacker – Vermaelen – Sagna). We’ll just have to wait and see if Koscielny is fit first of all.
Bayern’s £34m midfielder Javi Martinez has recovered from a toe injury, which is a big boost for the German side. Former Chelsea striker Claudio Pizarro is ill, whilst ex Manchester City defender Jerome Boateng is suspended. Holger Badstuber has a knee injury and will miss the game too.
Arsenal’s only chance of lifting a trophy this season is now the Champions League. The way things are going this season it may be a case of having to win it this season to be in it next year. Arsene Wenger is certainly under pressure from the fans following Saturday’s result. A poor display tomorrow would only make things worse for the Frenchman. Arsenal will need all the backing from the home fans. The fans need to forget what happened on Saturday, even if only for 90 minutes, and get behind their team. This is a very good side we’re up against and the atmosphere has to be positive. Moaning about Saturday will not win us the FA Cup. That is gone. Nothing will bring it back. The Champions League is what matters now. Both this tie against Bayern and qualifying for it next season.
I am no Bundesliga expert by any means, but I do watch the highlights every week on ITV, so have been keeping track of German football in general from the start of the campaign. We’ve seen three German clubs qualify as group winners into the last 16 this season. Arsenal were runners up to Schalke, Borussia Dortmund WON the group of death that had Real Madrid, Manchester City and Ajax in it and tomorrow’s opponents Bayern Munich won their group too. So German football is certainly good right now. Bayern have been criticised for 3 years without a major trophy, Arsenal are on 8, pushing on 9.
Bayern look very likely to end that drought this year as they are absolutely coasting to the league title right now. Champions League glory isn’t impossible, they were runners up to Chelsea last season and lost the Final to Inter Milan in 2010 too. Yes, that would involve beating Arsenal along the way if they were to conquer Europe for the first time since 2001. With former Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola set to take over in Munich in the summer, the future looks bright for Bayern. It’s a shame that the same can’t be said about Arsenal at the moment.
Arsenal will have a couple of familiar faces to Bayern players and fans alike. most notably Lukas Podolski. Podolski played for Bayern between 2006 and 2009 and didn’t enjoy the best of spells with the club. He will be looking to prove a point against Bayern in this two legged tie. Podolski has over 100 caps for Germany and before joining the Gunners last summer he had spent his entire career in Germany with Cologne and Bayern.
Per Mertesacker is another face that should be familiar with Bayern fans. He didn’t play for Bayern but had spells for both Hannover and Werder Bremen in Germany before a deadline day move to Arsenal in August 2011. He is nearing the 100 cap mark for the German national side too, so he will definitely be well known and I’m sure Bayern know all about the German duo’s strengths and weaknesses.
It goes without saying that if Arsenal can get through these 90 minutes without conceding an away goal tomorrow night, it will be massive for them in the tie. Bayern boast a squad full of superstars with plenty of attacking talent so keeping a clean sheet would be huge. As well as this, Bayern have a mean defence that doesn’t concede many goals at all. So if Arsenal can score tomorrow it will be a big bonus too. Most important of all though is not conceding. If they’re going to concede, it has to be just 1. Arsenal can’t go to Munich needing to score more than one away goal to stay in the competition. It’ll be hard enough scoring one at the Emirates, let alone over there.
Arsenal are certainly the underdogs tomorrow night. Having followed the club for many years now, I can say Arsenal do relish that role of being the underdog. In fact I think it sometimes suits them better when people don’t think they’ll win. It would be typical Arsenal to win tomorrow night when the odds are against them and everyone has been slating them. Having said that, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them get trounced tomorrow night either. If they were to win tomorrow night, it also would not surprise me if they then went and lost to Aston Villa or drew 0-0 against them, something stupid like that. Ah yes, the joys of being an Arsenal fan everyone.