After a pretty lacklustre showing in the first leg of the Champions League last 16, the Premier League’s representatives have their work cut out to make it through to the quarter finals.
With their form stuttering in recent weeks, a confidence-boosting 4-1 win over Everton in the FA Cup on Saturday is a good result to take with them on the plane to Munich, as they look to at least emulate their 2-0 win over the Bundesliga champions 12 months ago.
Goals from Toni Kroos and Thomas Muller have given Pep Guardiola’s side an ominous-looking lead going into the second leg at the Allianz Arena, but Manchester City have already proved this season they are not infallible on home turf, winning 3-2 there in the group stage.
That result was, admittedly, with the caveat that Bayern had already progressed to the knockout rounds but it still registers as a defeat, and one Wenger will study to find ways of making the seemingly impossible possible.
Arsenal need to put three goals past a defence that has conceded just 11 in 24 Bundesliga outings, while also shutting out their lethal attack at the other end, and these three players will be vital in their bid for an unlikely victory.
Bayern’s ability to score goals is enough to devastate the most experienced of defences, and one of the key orchestrators is Arjen Robben. The wide man’s ability to terrorise full-backs and cut in from the right-hand side is all-too familiar for many defenders, who will often wake up from cold sweats just thinking about facing the Netherlands winger.
Kieran Gibbs didn't feature prominently in the first leg after going off injured in the first half, but he is likely to be given the nod on Tuesday night, and faces the thankless task of keeping Robben quiet.
The 24-year-old left-back has just a 36 per cent tackle success rate in the Champions League this season, while it’s not much better on Premier League duty at 44%. He has to be sure that, when he goes to ground against Robben, he comes away with the ball, otherwise he could leave his goalkeeper – set to be Lukasz Fabianski after Wojciech Szczesny’s red card in the first leg – extremely exposed.
The key to success is, clearly, to try and keep Robben outside him on his famously weaker right foot. Gibbs will need support from further up the pitch for this, and if Arsenal can keep Robben at arm’s length they will be able to snuff out a key chance creator.
The only way Arsenal are going to make it through, of course, is if they put the ball in the net at least twice, and their main striker has to be at the top of his game to make that even a remote possibility.
Manuel Neuer is Bayern’s best player in the Bundesliga this season with a total Performance Score of 997, and the 27-year-old has 13 clean sheets in 23 league appearances, boasting an incredible 4.44 saves per goal, so the German shot-stopper is anything but easy to beat.
Giroud netted twice in the Champions League group stage but produced some indifferent performances, and he will be desperate to show he can deliver for the Gunners at the highest level. He was dropped in favour of inexperienced striker Yaya Sanogo in the first leg, but his late double against Everton in the FA Cup at the weekend should see him earn a start in Germany.
The Frenchman needs to regularly test Neuer at a rate bettering his average of one shot on target per match in the Premier League (26 efforts in 26 games), but that isn’t his only role. He will be the key to defensive respite as he looks to hold up play in the other half or act as the fulcrum to a successful counter-attack.
That said, it’s the scoreline that counts and you feel Giroud must get on the scoresheet early on if Arsenal are to progress to the last eight.
After a first leg to forget, Mesut Ozil will be keen to banish those demons and guide Arsenal through with the kind of performance that prompted Arsene Wenger to bring the German to the Emirates Stadium in the first place.
The 25-year-old looked threatening early on and did well to earn himself a penalty, but the resulting miss from the spot is what hangs in the memory of all Gunners fans. His performance in the FA Cup at the weekend, though, was a return to form as he ran his socks off to play an integral role all over the pitch.
This is the sort of performance needed from Ozil at the Allianz Arena as he has two key roles to play: setting up and/or scoring goals at one end, and helping Gibbs keep Robben at bay at the other.
In seven Champions League appearances this term, Ozil has created 18 chances for team-mates, of which two have earned him assists. That number is three times higher than any other Arsenal player and shows just how vital he will be in the Gunners’ search for three goals in Germany.
Meanwhile, at the other end, much has been said of his lack of tracking back, yet he was one of the top ground-coverers in the first leg – despite his indifferent performance – and even received a standing ovation on Saturday as he raced the entire length of the pitch to win the ball back near his own corner flag against Everton.
Victory, and progression to the next round, is extremely unlikely for Wenger’s men, but if things click perfectly and Ozil has the kind of day that exceeds his £42 million price tag, the travelling fans could just see something remarkable.
- Sports & Recreation
- Bayern Munich
- Arsene Wenger
- Premier League
- Arjen Robben