It’s February, so we are playing either Bayern Munich or Barcelona, right? Let me just check the fixture list, ah, It’s Bayern again. But we’re away in the first leg, so that means we have done pretty well in the group stage this season. Had we not pinched the top spot we would have been hosting Barca tonight, but instead PSG have that little test to face. Advantage the Arsenal, yes?
Arsene Wenger has already confirmed that David Ospina will be in goal in the Allianz Arena. The Champions League and cup tie goalkeeper has a real opportunity to stake a claim to more regular action in a huge match. The news is not so good for Lucas who has been ruled out with a hamstring injury. I hope his luck turns for the better soon.
Ahead of Ospina the boss has to decide between Nacho Monreal or Kieran Gibbs for what could be one of the key positions of the match. If both were showing consistently good form I would plump for Nacho, but I will understand if Arsene opts to start the latter for the second match running. Hector Bellerin, Shkodran Mustafi, and Laurent Koscielny are surely given starters?
As is Mesut Ozil, despite the Chinese whispers of his impending benching. A fascinating choice awaits for the pair behind him in midfield, assuming Arsene sticks with his 4-2-3-1. The switch to 4-3-3 worked at Southampton and in the opening phase at Stamford Bridge, but it was ditched after Chelsea took the lead and Arsene is unlikely to put his complete trust in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to be the middle man in that formation in a match of this magnitude.
That’s not to say the Ox won’t start on Wednesday night. In fact he is highly likely to, such has been his form in recent weeks. At last we have the luxury of options to partner him with Granit Xhaka back to challenge Mohamed Elneny after his suspension. Xhaka and the Ox could form a powerful base from which to spring attacks, but can Granit resist his inclination to the impetuous? Elneny may keep his place, just.
Mesut is not the only Gunner under a bit of a cloud at the moment and for that reason I would be sorely tempted to start Danny Welbeck and Alex Iwobi either side of Alexis rather than start with Theo Walcott. I hope Theo is just suffering a bit of ‘new Dad tiredness’ and will be back to the form he showed in the first half of the season soon. He really needs to show he is still driven to contribute more to this side. In reality I suspect the boss will persist with him. Good luck to him if so.
What of Bayern, I hear you ask. Now whilst I am watching a lot more European football in recent weeks none of it has been from the Bundesliga, so I am reliant upon the opinions of others. I have read in many places that they are not the Bayern of recent seasons, but when I look at the League table I see they have lost just one match and are seven points clear at the top of the table. They have scored 45 goals in 20 league matches. That’s deterioration? Blimey.
Champions League then, perhaps more relevant? A defeat to Atletico in Madrid, just the 1-0. A 3-2 loss in Rostov is eye-catching. It’s why they finished second in group B as they avenged their defeat by Atletico on match day six. So basically one embarrassing reverse all season. They still look the hardest of nuts to crack to this observer.
The ‘holic pound
Last season we beat them 2-0 at home in one of the best performances we have produced in recent seasons. It counted for nought as they monstered us in the return, but there is a blueprint for how to contain, frustrate, and punish them. I’m not expecting us to repeat that margin of victory, but if we are to succeed then a return to our European heritage, and one-nil to the Arsenal has some appeal at a staggering 22/1 with Paddy Power. If a topical anytime goalscorer punt is of interest then Mesut Ozil and Shkodran Mustafi look a little skinny at bests of 9/2 and 12/1 respectively. I’ll pass at those prices, thank you.
A fair few friends are enjoying the hospitality in Munich as I type. The Arsenal allocation, as ever, is sold out. I hope they get a performance from a team that is certainly due a good one. At home I may grab some Bavarian beer for a stereotypical night in front of the screen with my full leder… no, I’ll spare you that image. It’s made me feel a bit queasy, if I’m honest!
Have a (hopefully) great one, ‘holics.