It’s been kind of forgotten that last season Arsenal scared the life out of Bayern Munich. Not in the first leg when the Germans were sensational, going 2-0 up after just 20 minutes at the Emirates before running out 3-1 winners in the end.
But in the second leg at the Allianz Arena, the Gunners got an early goal through Olivier Giroud, and late one from Laurent Koscielny. In-between they defended for their lives, making last ditch tackles, blocks and saves as the eventual tournament winners more or less dominated the game.
Yet in the final few minutes, after Koscielny’s scrappy goal had made it 3-3 on aggregate – meaning an Arsenal goal would see them through – the German giants got the ball and kept it as close to the Arsenal corner flag as possible, running the clock down. It was sensible, experienced football, but borne out of necessity.
— Arsenal FC (@Arsenal) February 7, 2014
Lessons from 2013
Arsenal only went out on away goals last season, and let’s be honest, that was a team that was really struggling at the time. They’d just been knocked out of the FA Cup by Blackburn and lost away to great geographical rivals Spurs. Confidence was low, the atmosphere around the side was far from positive, but they still came close to springing a major surprise. That’s why this season’s encounter shouldn’t be dismissed as such a foregone conclusion even if most people would accept Bayern are overwhelming favourites.
You would expect Arsene Wenger’s team to take the lesson of that 2013 first leg into Wednesday night’s game. They have no need to be expansive, there’s no requirement to go for it and leave themselves exposed. If they could nick a 1-0, or even take a 0-0 to Munich, they’d be in great shape for the second leg. They cannot afford to let Bayern get that many away goals under their belt again.
— Gunner Updates (@Gunner_Updates) February 16, 2014
Bayern won’t be wasteful like Liverpool
Indeed, even after the FA Cup win over Liverpool, Wenger ought to be concerned at how often Daniel Sturridge found himself in behind the Arsenal defence. That his finishing was more Dean than Daniel meant they went unpunished, but Bayern are unlikely to be so wasteful, so getting things tighter back there should be a key part of their preparation.
At the top end of the pitch there’s no doubt they have the quality to hurt Bayern. Santi Cazorla’s recent form has been a delight while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has three goals and an assist in his last four games. Although he’s clearly not 100% in the manager’s starting line-up, Lukas Podolski has a fantastic record with six goals from just 12 appearances this season, while with Mesut Ozil in the team Arsenal have a player who can see a pass and add that extra quality in the final third.
Where they might have worries is over Giroud. The Frenchman’s recent form on the pitch hasn’t been brilliant, but it’s nowhere near as bad as the media would have you believe. He has four goals and an assist in the last nine games, and when his hold up play and deft flicks work it adds another dimension to the Arsenal attack.
— Arsenal FC (@Arsenal) February 16, 2014
Caution is order of the night
However, even though he scored in Munich last season, doubts persist against his ability to produce in the biggest games. Giroud missed most of the FA Cup game on Sunday and there’s still no question over his position as Wenger’s first choice striker. A response from him against Bayern would be timely.
It’s not easy to predict how this one will turn out (1-1 if pushed), but it would be a huge surprise to see anything other than a cautious performance from the Gunners, in keeping with the way they’ve played for much of the season.
Of course while this is a better Arsenal team than this time last year, it’s an improved Bayern too, so it promises to be an intriguing, exciting night in London.