UEFA Champions League Round of 16 Preview: FC Bayern Munich vs. Arsenal FC
In Turkey, ninth-placed Genclerbirligi played first-placed Galatasaray in the past week. Gala has hit a bad patch off late. The home crowd saw the opposition take a lead; Gala was behind. A certain Didier Drogba was introduced to the action. Gala was awarded a penalty. The Ivorian, the scorer of a massive penalty less than 10 months ago, stepped up to take it.
Gala lost the game 0-1 but remains top due to a two point lead over second placed Besiktas. A penalty miss from Drogba did not alter history. But a couple of penalty misses from last season did.
Those penalty misses has propelled FC Bayern München to great heights this season. They have seemed sharper, smarter and overall better. In 2013, Bayern had won all their matches. However, that one question still remained- how would Bayern respond to going behind?
Against Fortuna in the Allianz, when Mathis Bolly struck after a Manuel Neuer blunder (and overall defensive blunder), there was a sense of nervousness in the Arena. Bayern created many chances; Mario Mandzukic did not take some of the best ones. Thomas Müller, set up by Philipp Lahm, took his and struck.
At half time the score was 1-1. Klaas Jan Huntelaar had scored a few seconds before half time in another stadium in Gelsenkirchen to put his side into a two goal lead over Dortmund. Meanwhile, Mainz was holding Bayer Leverkusen. Bayern seemed poised to earn a victory and take the lead further at the top of the table.
They had a 20-point lead an hour later over second placed Dortmund. However, for a few minutes in the second half, this almost did not come to pass. Andreas "Lumpy" Lambertz, Fortuna’s great captain, grabbed a goal on the counter attack. Despite the suspicion of offside on the goal, Bayern got caught out badly.
Jupp Heynckes then took a look at his bench and realized he had many options. Amongst them was Claudio Pizarro. Pizza, as energetic as ever, came on and set up Bayern’s best player on the day, Franck Ribery, for the second. A winner was now surely on the way. Yet, it almost did not come. When substitute Mario Gomez’s header jerked out from underneath the cross bar, the game had a feeling about it—the same feeling that game at the Allianz had nine and half months ago.
Again, Heynckes made a smart choice. Daniel Van Buyten the bull stayed back in defence while Jerome Boateng ventured forward. Eventually, the evergreen Lahm hit a perfect cross. Berlin boy Boateng connected for his first ever Bundesliga goal. Can Bayern come back from a goal down? Yes, they can.
The hard-fought win came at both a perfect and an imperfect time. Ahead of a tricky game against Arsenal, Bayern was tested by a well organized Dusseldorf side and won. How much energy did Bayern invest in that game though? Ribery came out of it with an ankle injury and has been ruled out of Wednesday’s clash.
Arsenal has had a ten day break. Arsene Wenger has been training his side strictly and meticulously ahead of this game. Wenger has his own headaches of courses. An injury to Kieran Gibbs and the ineligibility of Nacho Monreal again gives him headaches about the left back spot. Jack Wilshere might not be available. The heart and soul of Wenger’s side is Wilshere. Bacary Sagna missed the last two league games rendering him doubtful.
At least, one of Wenger’s players did not pick up a stupid red card in the group stages. That is exactly what Jerome Boateng did and is suspended. Bastian Schweinsteiger picked up a yellow in the first leg; as that yellow was his third in the competition, he is also suspended-this leaves Bayern down to a pairing of Javier Martinez- Luiz Gustavo in defensive midfield.
How many of you remember the last time this midfield combo paired up in the Champions League group stages? That day was certainly not pretty. That day in Ukraine on a bad pitch, Bayern fared horribly. They lost 3-1. Gustavo was given a run out in the game against Fortuna ahead of the match against Arsenal. The Martinez-Gustavo combo did fare well in their last outing though. Bayern beat Bremen 6-1 that day.
Arjen Robben missed Bayern’s weekend clash due to a calf strain. He is also doubtful. This leaves a few doubts about Jupp Heynckes’ line up. Also, what tactics Heynckes will use is for everyone to guess. At home, the main tactics usually involve pressing and attacking continuously. However, in the first leg, Jupp changed his normal strategy.
Wenger could do with making a few changes to his side too. Theo Walcott did not fare well up front in the first leg. Olivier Giroud could play up front this time. Arsenal is by no means out; Wenger is never out till the fat lady sings despite the fact that he divides opinion.
It is time to get back down to another bad memory. In 2011, Bayern created history by becoming only the second team to get knocked out of the Champions League after winning a first leg 0-1. No team has ever come back from a 1-3 deficit in the Champions League. Arsenal needs to score three unanswered goals; Inter did score thrice that day even though the Bayern team today is slightly different from that side.
What will Jupp and Arsene have up their sleeves for this one?
Here are the predicted lineups:
Philipp Lahm- Daniel Van Buyten- Dante- David Alaba
Javier Martinez- Luiz Gustavo
Thomas Müller- Toni Kroos- Arjen Robben/Xherdan Shaqiri
Bacary Sagna- Per Mertesacker- Laurent Koscielny- Thomas Vermaelen
Aaron Ramsey/Jack Wilshere- Mikel Arteta
Theo Walcott- Santi Cazorla- Lukas Podolski
Prediction: Bayern 1-1 Arsenal
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