Wednesday, 19 February 2014

How to beat Bayern

This isn't a preview, per se, it's more of a suggestion. If you are here to catch an excerpt of Arsene Wenger's pre-match conference or for an update on our injury list, I apologize, but I won't be providing that today. Nor will I give my predicted starting XI or a prediction of a final scoreline.

After our victory against Liverpool, I wrote:

"I can't believe I'm saying this, but I think I saw blueprints in this team that could cause problems for Bayern Munich on Wednesday. The unique combinations that the manager attempted worked out beautifully, and could really help us in midweek. I'm not suggesting that Arsenal have a great chance to defeat Bayern, but we seem to have the potential to give them a real push over two legs."

I still stand by that. Incredibly, I have a strange feeling that IF we play our cards right, we can achieve something memorable over two legs. Bayern Munich, according to me, are the best football team in the world right now. Defeating them at home would not only skyrocket our confidence, but it would also give us a reasonable chance to enter the last 8 of Europe's elite.

Without any delay, THIS is what I think we should do in order to topple the German superiority, at least for one game:

Mesut Ozil should start, only if Oxlade-Chamberlain does...
In Chamberlain we have a rare player who is capable of making off-the-ball runs. This is something that Ozil has been crying out for, and is finally getting what he needs. I have already said before that we need more movement in the final third so that Ozil, Cazorla and Wilshere can create chances for them on a silver platter. The Ox provides that.

While I have been criticizing Ozil's performances since November, it is only now that the footballing world has gotten wise to it. Pressure of expectation from the fans has worked wonders on Ozil - we're finally getting our money's worth. It would be a shame if we waste Ozil's current good form by surrounding him with slow players.

An Ozil in form is key to success, and pacy players are key to Ozil's form. For me, it's a no-brainer.

Olivier Giroud must start as well...
On other days, I'd have happily suggested Lukas Podolski. I agree with Wenger; Podolski is the best finisher at our club. In addition, he's motivated, fresh, understands Ozil (what with being German and all that) and pops in goals almost regularly. So why bench him?

Honestly, he's a lousy striker, at least in Arsenal's current system. He looked totally out of place against Cardiff as a lone striker, even though he's a player closest resembling Robin van Persie at Arsenal. I'd completely understand his frustration at being benched despite bringing so much to the team. However with all due respect, Cazorla and Chamberlain bring a bit more.

I've considered suggestions that playing Ox as a striker, Ozil right behind him and Cazorla, Podolski on the wings could be a tactical masterstroke. After all, Chamberlain is a fast, physical player who could also provide Ozil with a plethora of options. Not to mention Podolski getting a start (on the left flank, where he's most effective) would leave him eager to impress when it really, really matters.

However, experimentation (especially at such a big match) is always susceptible to risk. On one of the biggest matches of the season, there is always a chance that Chamberlain could perform badly and Ozil might find himself lost. It's a chance we cannot gamble on, which is why Olivier Giroud should start.

The Back Five and Flamini to get the nod...
With Arteta suspended and Ramsey still injured (please don't say Kim Kallstrom), Mathieu Flamini's start alongside Jack Wilshere seems something of a given. Nothing to particularly worry about though, Flamini could be vital to our success today.

He's our only natural defensive midfielder (PLEASE don't say Kim Kallstrom), and a damn good one at that. He's steeled up the midfield and brought genuine aggression to the side, something only Jack Wilshere previously provided. If he's in the mood today, we might injure the Bavarians instead of just frustrate them.

Franck Ribery and Xherdan Shaqiri are ruled out for this game. The wings have opened up; we should use Kieran Gibbs and Bacary Sagna to exploit them. Add to that a reliable partnership of Mertesacker and Koscielny along with Wojciech Szczesny in goal, and you get a fantastic chance for a clean sheet.

Motivate the team, someone!
It's obvious that Arsene Wenger is incapable of setting a positive team mentality when the crunch times arrive. To mention recent games, encounters against Manchester United, Liverpool (5-1), Napoli away and Aston Villa stand out.

He needs to make an exception sometime, right? Bayern Munich are staunch opponents; going into this game with a relaxed mindset it therefore suicide. It's not like he has to look up a motivational book or something as well, he has one of the easiest pep talks to deliver: "The whole world is waiting for us to fail, prove them wrong!"

I don't think that he will, though. Anyway, let's hope that players like Flamini and Mertesacker lead from example. Let's hope.

If you can't win, don't lose...
I understand that all of these factors combined still might not be enough for us to win this match. After all, it is Bayern Munich that we're facing, only the best team in the world.

However, we should keep in mind that we're facing a two-legged encounter. Even if we don't win the first leg, we must lay a good foundation to give us hope for the second. Suffice to say, a clean sheet at the Emirates is vital to progression. I would genuinely be delighted and filled with hope with a 0-0 draw, mostly because we would have a huge chance for progression if we nab an away goal in the second encounter.

The lineup I want?
Starting XI: Szczesny - Sagna - Mertesacker - Koscielny - Gibbs - Flamini - Wilshere - Ozil - Ox - Cazorla - Giroud.

Bench: Fabianski, Monreal, Rosicky, Podolski, Gnabry, Bendtner, Sanogo.

I considered dropping Wilshere, putting Chamberlain alongside Flamini and playing Podolski on the wings. However, I know that a player like Wilshere would play with much more flair today than Podolski would. Besides, I was never really convinced with the idea of Chamberlain being particularly effective in central midfield. To me, he's best effective on the wings.


I still expect us to bow out, though. I don't want to fault or criticize our own players, but we all know that Bayern Munich are better than us. We've never really convinced against top teams - heck, we look nervous against teams like Everton and Manchester United. I'm not saying that Arsenal aren't a good team, I'm just saying that Bayern are better, and expectations shouldn't be raised higher than reality.

However, Arsenal are living proof that underdogs can defeat the big teams when they put their efforts in the right direction. As opposed to hopes of the Premier League title, I'm not expecting failure today. I firmly believe that we have the potential to cause a massive upset, if we play cautiously as well as ruthlessly.

On paper, Bayern Munich are clear winners. Out there, who knows?

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )

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