If Arsenal are to shock the world by defeating Bayern Munich and sneaking into the Champions League quarterfinals, they will need to be aggressive in their approach at the Allianz Arena.
Make no mistake, the Gunners need to conjure up a miracle in overcoming a two-goal deficit to a Bayern side that has lost just one time since the Gunners managed an ultimately futile 2-0 upset in Munich during last year's Champion's League matchup.
Step back a bit from the game, and it appears Arsenal have almost nothing to lose by utilizing an ultra-aggressive style against Bayern. They are relieved of any expectations considering Bayern are favorites to win the game and history is on the German's side. The Gunners are still in the Premier League title race, and have a shot at ending the trophy drought in the FA Cup thanks to Wigan's surprise victory over Manchester City in that competition.
Arsene Wenger would be wise to unleash his team against a Bayern squad that may be getting comfortable with their two-goal lead and their cruise control status in the Bundesliga title race. According to BBC Sport, his team has the belief thanks to their recent history against FC Hollywood.
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger is speaking in his pre-Bayern Munich news conf: "History is important in our belief. We know we can do it." #AFC— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) March 10, 2014
A shock goal with an aggressive approach early could put Bayern on the back foot, and the lingering memory of last year's home defeat to the Gunners could dampen the mood at the Allianz Arena.
Arsenal managed their famous victory from last season with a third-minute goal from Olivier Giroud, who is certain to feature heavily in this matchup as well, as his form this season is much improved over last year.
This very idea, hitting Bayern in the mouth early and not letting up, very nearly worked out in the first matchup in London on February 19th.
According to Henry Winter of telegraph.co.uk, Bayern manager Pep Guardiola is mindful of the way Arsenal came out strong in their last meeting:
Arsenal are a very good team, when they have possession, they have very good players, Mesut Özil, Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta, a lot of quality in midfield. We saw what happened until the penalty Özil missed, a time when the opponent was better against us.
Arsenal may have conceded the possession battle to Bayern, but they made sure that they took a higher percentage of high-risk, high-reward passes.
|Team||Total Passes||Successful Crosses||Passing Accuracy||% of passes long|
Arsenal sent 15 percent of their passes over long distances, more than three times Bayern's own percentage. Rather than try to beat Pep Guardiola at his own game and bat the ball around the midfield constantly, Arsenal took some risks by switching the field of play and sending passes upfield towards striker Olivier Giroud and company.
Arsenal's muted aggressiveness almost paid off when Mesut Ozil won a penalty by getting into space and coercing Bayern center back Jerome Boateng into a lazy foul in the box. Unfortunately for the Gunners, keeper Manuel Neuer saved Ozil's penalty after his stutter-start run to the ball failed to hoodwink the formidable German keeper.
Arsenal's glimmers of hopes were extinguished when their keeper Wojciech Szczesny earned a red card by bringing down Arjen Robben with a clear chance at goal, but they can take comfort in knowing they did draw first blood in a way by getting that early penalty.
The Gunners may find it impossible to boss Bayern in the midfield, but manager Arsene Wenger can drift away from his own possession-oriented style and focus on counterattacking and sending long balls into the attacking third.
With players like Ozil and Tomas Rosicky in the fold, the Gunners certainly have the passing acumen to pull off an aggressive strategy like this.
Mikel Arteta would also prove to be a welcome addition to the starting eleven in this situation. He can attempt to break up Bayern attacks from a holding midfielder spot, and when the Gunners have possession, can rely upon his 4.2 accurate long balls per game, good for second-best on the team (and only behind the keeper Szczesny, which is entirely expected).
Arsenal, also won the aerial battle against Bayern in the last matchup, despite being down a man for the majority of the match.
The Gunners' lanky German center back, Per Mertesacker, could certainly come in handy on attacking set pieces and preventing Bayern from getting any easy chances playing off the back foot.
Which Arsenal player will be the biggest key to upsetting Bayern Munich?
Bayern has scored the majority of their goals in this year's Champions League in the second half of games (15 of 24 total), which means they are somewhat susceptible for taking some time to get up a full head of steam in games.
Force Bayern to panic—even just slightly—and this will open up the game for Arsenal, who will almost certainly improve upon their possession stats from the first leg should they manage to avoid any red cards (here's to Lukas Fabianski showing the restraint that Szczesny couldn't manage).
Should Arsenal prove themselves steely enough to withstand a potent Bayern attack and fight for a couple of goals of their own, they have a chance at crafting a truly memorable victory in Munich.