So here we are. Bayern Munich away. Like last season. And the season before. Etc, etc, repeat to fade.
I’d be more excited if we were playing a team with which we had a terrible record with, but haven’t played for a while, if I’m honest with you. I’m just struggling to get too ‘count down the minutes’ because a) our knockout record is appalling, and b) we’ve seen this lot all too often. This must be what Hull felt like when we played them in the cup a few seasons running, a few years ago, although even that stopped after a while. Our association with Bayern is like the Energiser Bunny: it just keeps going and going and going and going….
But hey, at least we’re in the competition, so at least we get to watch our team tonight. Regardless of if it ends up being another night to forget like last time we visited the Allianz in the group stages last season. That we could really do without. Also, let’s look on the bright side, which is that one team has already decided it’ll have a go at ‘glorious failure’ in the shape of Barcelona, who had a total meltdown of Arsenal proportions yesterday evening. So the recent history can be updated, providing we don’t do the same tonight, which I can’t even begin to speculate.
And when it comes to team news, neither can Arsène, because the papers are all running with the ‘Mesut will be dropped because Arsène didn’t confirm he would start’ malarkey. I don’t believe it though. Arsène is a man who sticks by his players even after a string of bad games and with players like Theo able to go three or four in a row anonymous, I doubt Mesut will be warming the bench in Munich. I’m also surprised at the response by the gutter press, because Arsène never confirms his team before a game. He always plays the ‘I haven’t picked the team yet’ card – except for the ‘keepers – so why would tonight’s game be any different?
I expect we’ll see a back five which has Ospina, Bellerin, Mustafi and Koscielny and whilst I think Gibbs did enough to keep his place following his good performance on Saturday (blatant red card aside), I can just see Arsène rotating by playing Monreal tonight. It would be harsh on the Englishman though.
Midfield simply has to have Xhaka return after four out. As I mentioned in Monday’s blog, what I didn’t see on Saturday was somebody dropping off to collect the ball from the back four and relieving any pressure they have to distribute and build up play, which Granit brings to the table. Coquelin presses high, covers ground and wins the odd tackle in dramatic fashion, but he’s not an effective ball distributor. The Ox is, but whilst he showed some defensive discipline against Hull, he needs somebody alongside him who can screen and cover. Him and Xhaka would be my choices for tonight, but I think Arsène opts for the running of Coq and I fear he’ll pair him with Xhaka. That hasn’t felt like it’s worked previously, so I don’t know why it would work tonight, but I think Coquelin is Arsène’s ‘go to’ guy in that midfield at the moment. That means it might be him plus one. That plus one will probably be the Ox, because he has more vision than Elneny, so if that is the case, we need him to have an absolute blinder. Both going forwards and backwards, because Bayern will have plenty of the ball and he will need to cover ground, but he’ll also need to be part of the quick transition when the ball turns over.
Which is why I hope Arsène opts for all out pace in attack. I’d look at Alexis, Theo and Welbeck. I doubt Welbeck will play because of the magnitude of the game and the fact that Arsenal seem to be easing him in with 10 to 15 minute cameos (Southampton in the cup aside), but I’d personally think it’s worth the gamble to unsettle Bayern. Iwobi has been on and off in terms of form this season and he also slows the ball down sometimes when he’s dribbling at players and checking inside. We don’t really want Bayern being able to set themselves defensively, so springing on them with pace and rapid movement with the ball from the front three is how I’d set the team up.
Bayern will want to put this tie to bed in the first game and having spanked us 5-1 last season with quick goals, they’ll look to do the same again, with household names we’ve all heard of before. There’s no point reeling off their star-studded outlets, but with Ribery and Boateng missing, at least the Bayern team are weakened a little bit. What we have to do is to keep our shape and don’t leave whatever fullback Robben is up against isolated. In addition, Koscielny needs to have a blinder to keep Lewandowski quiet and oh, did I forget to mention that Alonso needs to not have acres of space in the middle of the park? That means a quick press whenever he has the ball.
So many variables and therefore so many elements that we have to get right to stand a chance of staying in this tie. The challenge Bayern will have, if they do go ahead, will be whether they try to go for the jugular or whether they shut up shop and take the advantage back to the Emirates. It’s the same in reverse for us too though. If we’re a goal down the last thing we need is to go all brain-farty and overstretch ourselves as we look for an away goal.
Keep it tight, stay in it, see what we can do at home.
The odds are against us, not many think we’ll win over two legs, but who knows, maybe this’ll be a year in which the players step up in Europe.
We’ll find out in a few hours.