The Draw for the First Knockout Stage of the Champions’ League hasn’t been nice with the Gunners for a while. In 2010-11 we had to face Barcelona because of poor away form in the Group Stage that had cost us the top spot. In 2011-12 we had to face the best team from the unseeded pot – AC Milan led by Zlatan Ibrahimović – so our top spot didn’t help us at all.
It is disputable whether the toughest possible opponent would have been Barcelona or Bayern. We do not have too many nice memories with either of them and both are legitimate candidates for the Champions League title.
Our history with Bayern Muenchen isn’t a reason to be optimistic. Since Arsene Wenger took the helm of Arsenal, we have faced the German side on two occasions. In 2000-01 we had played in the Second Group Stage of the Champions’ League. Despite having a 2-0 lead, we had to settle with a 2-2 draw at Highbury. In the reverse fixture the Germans were more dominant than a narrow 1-0 victory would say. That defeat helped Bayern to claim top spot in the group while we had to hope Lyon wouldn’t win at Moscow. Both Arsenal and Bayern had qualified for the Quarterfinals. Our European campaign then ended there due to away goals against Valencia while Bayern had gone all the way to win their 4th European title. Our second meeting then came in 2004-05 in the First Knockout Stage. A late goal from Kolo Toure in Muenchen gave us hope that for a come-back after the 3-1 defeat in Germany but we didn’t give our best performance in the second leg and had to settle with a 1-0 consolation victory (Henry). Bayern lost in the Quarterfinal to the Chavs.
Bayern have been called FC Hollywood from the German media for a long time. There are more than a few reasons for that – their former captain Steffan Effenberg did a ‘John Terry’ on his team-mate’s (Thomas Strunz) wife, the video of Bixente Lizarazu giving a slapping to his skipper Matthaeus, rumours of Franck Ribery doing the same to Arjen Robben, Brazilian Breno apparently committed arson, Mandžukić saluted after one of his goals with something that is similar to a Nazi salute…but it’s also because Bayern are the only true giants of German football. Granted, teams like Borussia Moenchengladbach, Hamburger Sport Verein or Borussia Dortmund had/have their moments of glory but the Bundesliga is a competition consisted of Bayern Muenchen and the rest of the league. Two years of Borussia Dortmund domination in Germany have made the Bavarians angry so they had paid 40 million euros to Athletic Bilbao for Javi Martinez, an excellent defensive midfielder/central defender, they also beat other European giants in race for Basel winger Shaqiri and signed Dante, Pizarro and Mandžukić from the Bundesliga. They are on the course to win the German league title this season which gives them a lot more space to focus on the Champions’ League.
Their European record since UEFA introduced the Champions’ League has been impressive – they wont the Champions’ League in 2001, had reached the final in 1999, 2010 and 2012 and semifinals in 1995 and 2000. The unlucky defeats against English clubs in the finals in 1999 and 2012 were especially painful memories to all Bayern fans – against United they had a 1-0 lead until the 90th minute while against the Chavs at their own Allianz Arena they were up 1-0, a penalty that Robben failed to convert in extra-time and an advantage in the penalty-shootout after Mata’s penalty was saved by Manuel Neuer.
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Here’s a break down of the German side:
Neuer is probably one of the best goalkeepers in the world. He is capable of producing incredible performances just like Oliver Kahn used to. He is pretty good when it comes to penalty-shootout’s which is very familiar fact to Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka and Mata. Sometimes he concedes a goal that world-class keeper like him should never let in but it’s very hard to find an opportunity to score a goal against Bayern. The Bavarians have conceded just seven goals in 17 Bundesliga matches so far, with just one team that has managed to score more than once – Bayer Leverkusen. That was the only match Bayern have lost so far in Bundesliga and it was played at the Allianz Arena with Jerome Boateng being clumsy enough to score an own goal and give three points to the visitors.
The Bayern defense has become even stronger than it was last season thanks to the arrivals of Dante and Javi Martinez. Dante is playing alongside Jerome Boateng, the German international and brother of AC Milan’s Ghanian international Kevin-Prince Boateng (who scored the beautiful goal against us in last season First Knockout Stage). The versatile full-back and captain Phillip Lahm is on the right side while Austrian wonderkid David Alaba is on the left. The absence of the latter was noticed in the final against the Chavs last season. Both full-backs are capable of making excellent runs forward (some people would say both of them are better in attack than in defense) and crosses.
Central defense would be stronger if Holger Badstuber didn’t get injured, he will probably miss both matches against us.
Javi Martinez took over from Luiz Gustavo, a defensive midfielder linked with Arsenal recently, and has formed an impressive partnership with Bastian Schweinsteiger. Schweini (Schwein means “pig” in German) was linked with us after we had lost Nasri and Fabregas. He is the key player in the midfield and his powerful shots from distance may cause problems to any goalkeeper in the world. Martinez is the most expensive player in the Bundesliga history – Bayern had paid 40 million euros to Athletic Bilbao via the Spanish FA to activate the minimum fee release clause. Although Bayern already had Luiz Gustavo and Anatoliy Tymoschuk in that position, they signed a top class defensive midfielder in order to take both the Bundesliga and Champions’ League – a real statement of intent.
Wingers Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery aka Robbery have been Bayern’s main attacking threat since 2009. Robben is the left-footed winger that is mainly used on the right wing while Ribery is the right-footed winger on the left side. Both of them have the tendency to run inside, they are capable of shooting from distance and combining with the lone striker (Gomez, Mandžukić or Pizarro), full-backs or a central midfielder between them (Mueller or Kross). It’s no wonder every central forward in Bayern scores plenty of goals. Mueller, who was one of the best players and goal-scorers at World Cup 2010, is a dynamic player with the ability to find space in his opponents’ box. He has been also used as right winger in the absence of Robben due to one of the million Dutchman’s injuries. Kroos can give a decisive pass or produce dangerous shots from distance.
Xerdan Shaqiri, Anatoliy Tymoschuk and Luiz Gustavo are players that give more options to Heynckes when it comes to midfield.
Gomez, Pizarro and Mandžukić are fighting for the only place in Bayern’s attack. The veteran striker Claudio Pizarro is currently having a second spell at Bayern. He was the key player in the 2004-05 clash – he scored two goals for Bayern in the 3-1 victory in Munich – but it is unlikely he’ll start against us given that he has scored in only one match so far (granted, it was a hat-trick against Lille) and is mainly used as a substitute for one of the Marios. Mario Mandžukić has been the top scorer for Bayern so far but he got himself into trouble after he celebrated a goal against Nuernberg with a salute that made a lot of people believe it was a Nazi salute. The dynamic Croatian striker could find himself benched more than usual given that Mario Gomez is back. The German international has been one of the most prolific strikers in Europe but had to miss the start of the season due to injury. He is an intelligent striker capable of using every little bit of space given to him by opponents.
Although Bayern failed to win a single trophy last season (they were runners-up in all three main competitions), Jupp Heynckes is still in charge. He was very close to entering into the exclusive club of coaches that have managed to win the Champions’ League/European Champions’ Cup with two different clubs. He won his first (and so far only) Champions’ League title with Real Madrid in 1998 but a poor La Primera campaign was the reason for Lorenzo Sanz to sack him. He plays 4-2-3-1 with Bayern with a direct style and a lot of pressing on opponents. This should be a much easier season for him given that he is very close to winning the Bundesliga already.
Can the mighty German side be beaten by the Gunners? Despite the fact a lot of people had already written us off (e.g. Hasan Salihamidžić claims we are no longer a top team, Robert Jarni would put all his coins on Bayern) – yes. Bayern have already been beaten in the Champions’ League – Belarus side BATE Borisov with our ex-player Aliaksandr Hleb won 3-1. It was the only match so far – besides the one lost in the Bundesliga to Bayer – in which Neuer conceded more than one goal – so the winning formula, simply put, includes scoring more than one goal.
They have scored in every match so far which is a decent warning to our defense. Our defenders must not leave any space for Gomez, every deflected ball from Sczszesny will require special attention. Our midfield must stay focused during the whole match since their mistakes would expose our defenders to fast counter-attacks from the dangerous, attacking Bavarian side. Our wingers will have to help both our defenders and midfielders which means Lukas Podolski should take his place on the wing. The former Bayern player will be very motivated to show our opponents they made a mistake when they gave up on him and his team-work can do the job. It is very unlikely that we or Bayern will sign someone who is both capable of making a huge difference and eligible to play in the Champions’ League so this analysis – with all injuries that might happen until February – didn’t come too early.
2-1 at the Emirates for us, 1-1 at Allianz Arena?