Our European football scribe runs the rule over Wednesday night's game between Bayern and Arsenal.
Arsene Wenger may be starting to believe that his side is on the receiving end of some cosmic voodoo curse in the Champions League. Managing to overcome PSG in the group stage - thereby securing that ‘all-important’ top spot - they still have somehow managed to draw heavyweight European opposition this year. Bayern Munich have only just created some breathing space between themselves and Leipzig in the Bundesliga, while Arsenal’s perennial disintegration in the Premier League is in full flow. But there has not been the same air of invincibility at Munich this season, and perhaps this represents Arsenal’s best shot of defying the odds.
Bayern Munich v Arsenal | Wednesday 15 February | Allianz Arena | 21:45
To Win (80 Mins)
Bayern 9/20 | Draw 34/10 | Arsenal 52/10
Carlo Ancelotti will not have been especially pleased with the fact that they lost to both Atletico and Rostov in the group stages. There has also been a worrying dip in scoring form of late, with the side unable to score more than twice in their last five games in all competitions. Having said that, there is a roughly hewn resilience to this side. They haven’t conceded more than one goal in their last twelve matches, a testament to the Italian’s ultra-pragmatic approach.
Jerome Boateng and Franck Ribery will miss out this Wednesday, while Xabi Alonso is expected to reclaim his place in the side. I suspect that Ancelotti may leave the misfiring Thomas Muller on the bench. The iconic German forward has only scored once in his last 15 games, while Lewandowski has also been short a goal or two. I think he may favor the 4-3-3 approach this week, with Robben and Costa tucking in when they do not have possession.
The midfield three of Thiago, Vidal and Alonso has a wonderful balance to it, with Alonso patrolling, Vidal dominating and Thiago the nominal creative presence. I feel that they can get at Arsenal, who will always persist with that slightly staid 4-2-3-1 formation of theirs.
Arsenal must be one of those sides that everyone secretly wishes to face in the knock-out stages, particularly a manager of Ancelotti’s tactical proficiency. They just make it so easy to plan against them, with their steadfast commitment to that formation.
Elneny will likely come into partner Coquelin in the center of midfield, with Iwobi, Ozil and Walcott partnering Sanchez. Ozil’s own manager has admitted that the player has been struggling with a lack of confidence. Why a World Cup winner would struggle with issues of confidence is beyond me, but don’t worry, he will get a starting berth ahead of Olivier Giroud. Such is Arsene’s world.
Nacho Monreal will likely come in after being rested at the weekend, while Elneny’s likely inclusion will probably see Oxlade-Chamberlain return to the bench. I worry about Arsenal’s ability to deal with Costa and Robben in wide areas, especially If Bellerin and Monreal get too far forward.
I also look at this Arsenal attack and think that it looks a bit narrow, especially coming up against perhaps the best defensive side in Europe. I think they would be better suited playing Giroud through the middle in a 4-3-3, with Walcott and Sanchez on either side. It introduces the Giroud dimension, whilst giving their midfield more width. But that system doesn’t easily assimilate his precious Ozil, so don’t expect that this week.
Verdict: Bayern Munich (-1) 23/20
I think this could be one of those tipping point moments. Bayern are due a commanding performance, and Arsenal have looked shattered for confidence of late. Sanchez’s body language has been disappointing, while Ozil has looked as if he has undergone a secret lobotomy that only Wenger is aware of. I think Bayern will win by two clear goals.
Written by Damien Kayat @Hollywoodbets