Arsenal travel to Bayern Munich facing what appears to be an impossible task. However, they can draw inspiration from their tie against Bayern in 2012/13.
Arsenal find themselves in a curiously familiar scenario. Last season, the Gunners were in an almost identical position. They went to the Allianz Arena with a two-goal deficit, and expecting a drubbing. However, Arsene Wenger’s team responded with an outstanding display, winning 2-0. They were eliminated by the narrowest of margins: the away goals rule.
Should Arsene Wenger play his strongest team against Bayern Munich?
Having lost 2-0 in the first leg, Arsenal will need an identikit performance this time around. Some fans have suggested that Arsene Wenger should rest players for this game in order to focus on Arsenal’s domestic ambitions. That seems ill-advised: As Wigan showed in their FA Cup tie with Manchester City, lightning can strike twice. Arsenal could yet pull this off.
Arsenal were in excellent form in their own FA Cup quarter-final against Everton, and their team against Bayern will surely be very similar.
As against the Toffees, and indeed in last year’s Allianz Arena match, Lukasz Fabianski will be in goal. A year ago, he was a surprise pick ahead of the out-of-sorts Wojciech Szczesny. This time, he plays out of necessity—after picking up a red card in the first leg, Szczesny is now suspended.
In the past, Fabianski’s inclusion would have been cause for concern. However, his recent form has been impressive. With his contract due to expire this summer, he’ll relish the opportunity to attract new suitors on Europe’s biggest stage.
Arsenal’s defensive plan waits on news of Laurent Koscielny’s fitness. Koscielny missed the Everton match with a minor injury problem, but he ought to be fit to return for the trip to Bayern. If he doesn’t make it, club captain Thomas Vermaelen is on standby to deputise. At full-back, Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs will both surely start.
Arsene Wenger’s options in central midfield are limited by the absence of Jack Wilshere. Neither Kim Kallstrom nor Aaron Ramsey are expected to be ready, so Wenger could call upon the experienced pair of Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini. Their experience and defensive nous could be key in keeping Bayern at bay.
Mesut Ozil is surely guaranteed to start. After missing a penalty in the first leg, he’ll be desperate to make amends in the Allianz Arena. Wenger was probably toying with the prospect of starting Tomas Rosicky alongside him, but his plans might have altered after Arsenal’s win over Everton. Both Santi Cazorla and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were outstanding. Dropping either player would seem unduly harsh.
Upfront, Olivier Giroud will surely displace Yaya Sanogo. Sanogo gave a good account of himself in the first leg, but Giroud’s goalscoring cameo against Everton proved that he is Arsenal’s best striker by some distance.
This will be one of Arsenal’s sternest tests. With that in mind, they absolutely must name their strongest available team.
Predicted XI (4-2-3-1): Lukasz Fabianski; Bacary Sagna, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Kieran Gibbs; Mikel Arteta, Mathieu Flamini; Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla; Olivier Giroud.
James McNicholas is Bleacher Report's lead Arsenal correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here.