The third time may be the charm for the Gunners.
December 12th was the selection show for the UCL round of 16, and believe it or not, Arsenal and Bayern drew each other again. For the third time in the last five seasons, these two teams have drawn each other in the round of 16. Not to mention, Arsenal was also paired in Bayern’s group last season. Bayern won the last two round of 16 ties and Arsenal has not passed this round since 2010. However, this tie may not be the formality it once was. After winning their group, Arsenal is looking to knock off one of the European giants, and they have a legitimate shot this time around.
As opposed to the last two ties between these teams, Arsenal won their group this time while Bayern came in second. This means that Arsenal will host the second leg of this tie at the Emirates. In the last two ties, after losing at home, Arsenal was able to get results at the Allianz winning 2-0 in 2013 and drew 1-1 in 2014. Both of these results didn’t matter as Bayern advanced in ‘13 on away goals and won 3-1 on aggregate in ‘14. Since Arsenal is hosting the second leg, they are able to approach this tie very differently. Typically, the team hosting the first leg tries to go on the offensive and gain a goal or two to give a cushion going into the away game. Now, Arsenal has the opportunity to play defensively and for a draw or a low scoring game at the Allianz and then at home, will be able to play with confidence and hopefully not be in too much of a hole.
Here are some things Arsenal will need to do in order to pull off a massive upset.
Arsenal’s Elite Must Perform
Arsenal does not have as much depth across their squad compared to Bayern, but there are players on their roster that have the ability to unlock the Bayern defense: primarily Mesut Ozil and Alexis. Alexis, a rumored Bayern target has been arguably the best player in the Premier league so far scoring goals at will and creating dangerous situations. Sanchez has 13 goals and eight assists in all competitions this season. He’s a workhorse and has plenty of technical ability and pace to get behind the Bayern defense. Ozil, the German wizard, will be the most important player of the match. If he doesn’t perform, linking play to the attackers and threading through balls to send in the speedy wingers, this tie is hopeless. Ozil’s vision is unparalleled and the Arsenal team looks miles better when Ozil is at his best. Not to mention, he’s scoring goals now, and sensational ones too.
Ozil with the goal of the season gets a winner against Ludogorets in the group stage.
Get a Goal at the Allainz
Realistically, Arsenal should not expect to win their first leg on the road; they will likely play for a draw. Bayern, however, will be pushing forward to get a goal and an early lead in the tie. This will leave them vulnerable at the back. Arsenal has enough pace to get behind the Bayern defense, but actually putting one away against Manuel Neuer will be a challenge. A goal would be massive in terms of gaining an away goal advantage. Since Bayern will at times be spread out, Arsenal must take advantage of the few opportunities that they have.
Limiting Crosses and Set Pieces Defensively
If you watch Arsenal enough, you will know that one of their glaring weaknesses defensively is dealing with balls that are whipped into the box. Last week, Arsenal lost 2-1 to Everton, both goals scored on crosses finished with a header. Not to mention Bayern’s front man, Lewandowski, is one of the most dangerous aerial threats in the world. Hector Bellerin and either Kieran Gibbs or Nacho Monreal (whomever Wenger starts at LB), will have tough tasks of slowing down Bayern’s excellent winger play. All of their wingers are getting healthy at the right time for Bayern and with options including Ribery, Robben, Costa, Coman, and more. In Arsenal’s 5-1 defeat in the group stage in ‘15 to Bayern, three of Bayern’s goals came from winger play that led to a cross and a goal. Limiting crosses will be huge to the success of Arsenal’s defense, and Koscielny and Mustafi must keep an eye on Lewandowski at all times. It will be all hands on deck for the Arsenal defense, who will need to play their most complete game of the season in order to take down Bayern.
Utilize Crosses and Set Pieces Offensively
The caveat of the above topic is that set pieces and crosses are incredibly dangerous goal scoring chances. In ‘13 when Arsenal beat Bayern 2-0, both goals came from crosses: one that Giroud scored and the other from Koscielny. In ‘15, when Arsenal beat Bayern 2-0 in the group stage, one of the goals, and the best non-scoring chance came from crosses and headers: one scored by Giroud and the other from Walcott that was miraculously saved by Neuer. Additionally, in our 5-1 loss, the one goal came from a cross that was finished off by Giroud. With Giroud out of the starting lineup, Arsenal loses a big aerial target in the box, but Giroud can expect to be featured as a sub in both matches, and sending balls into the box will be a great opportunity to get goals.
Neuer with a superhuman save.
Arsenal is certainly the underdog going into this tie, but they will be a very tough test for Bayern. Arsenal has not lost a game when Mustafi is playing center back, and he should be healthy before these two teams square off in February. Minus the bad week they just had, Arsenal is generally clicking.
Bayern has not been playing their best either. They are currently tied atop the Bundesliga with Leipzig, but Bayern typically has the title already in the bag by now. Bayern also struggled in their group stage losing games to Atletico Madrid and FC Rostov. Arsenal did not lose a single group stage match, winning all their matches and tying PSG twice. Although Arsenal fans will be frustrated with drawing Bayern, it is an excellent opportunity to earn a marquee win against a top club in Europe and a chance to have a historic moment at the Emirates, which frankly there really has not been. This will shape up to be the most exciting tie for the round of 16.
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