After last week’s 3-1 defeat at the Emirates to Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich, Arsenal’s Champion’s League hopes have all but evaporated.
But, whilst it would be easy to write the Gunners off and most unlikely that they can pull off ‘Mission Impossible’ in Munich, here’s my thoughts on the five things they would need to stand any chance of doing the undoable.
1) Change Formation
Arsene Wenger has become very stubborn in his old age – he used to be much more flexible and accommodating with his formation. Perhaps he would consider, in this instance, adopting a 4-4-1-1 instead of 4-3-3 or 4-5-1 as he invariably does.
He could play Santi Cazorla in behind Olivier Giroud in a number 10 role, leaving Jack Wilshere to boss the midfield with Mikel Arteta holding back and Lukas Podolski and Theo Walcott providing pace, width and accurate delivery between them from the flanks.
They simply can’t afford to leave Giroud isolated up front on his own and Walcott is the wrong option as striker because he rarely outwits or out-maneuvers defenders and Bayern are wise to his tricks – they don’t leave any space for him in behind and, as such, he spent the majority of last week’s game as an anonymous bystander.
On the wing, however, he can cause some damage as can Podolski and both of them like to come inside off the flanks where they can get their shots away.
That would mean when they attack they have four options going forward and each of them is capable of a class finish. That would certainly give them more of an attacking threat than they had in the first leg at home.
2) Set pieces
Secondly, they must use their set-pieces more effectively – why on Earth Walcott has been delivering corners recently is beyond me, he really hasn’t delivered the goods and should be relieved from that duty immediately.
Wilshere and Cazorla should be taking corners and the Gunners need to maximize their aerial threat in Bayern’s box – Koscielny, Mertesacker and Vermaelen need to work harder to lose their markers and put some quality headers in on goal to test Manuel Neuer.
3) Clinical finishing
They’re going to have to add some more bite to their bark – they played better in the second half at the Emirates and could have equalized before Bayern got their third goal of the night.
They proved they can compete in terms of possession but, as they have done when they’ve visited the Nou Camp a couple of seasons ago, they’re going to have to play on the counter attack and will likely be cornered in their own half for the majority of the game.
But, as they failed to do against Barcelona, they need to capitalize swiftly when they break. Walcott’s pace need to be met with a runner or two busting a gut to get in the box for a cross or a through ball and when they get on that they need to be clinical, not wasteful as they have been so often this season.
They’re really not going to get many chances so they need to take the ones they do get.
4) Team Defending
Synonymously, their woeful defending needs to be left back in England – it’s no point in trying to get goals back if they’re going to let a load more in.
They need to protect their goalkeeper and he needs to issue instructions to his backline. It’s been a comedy of errors all season long for Arsenal and that isn’t just down to inadequate defending but inadequate team defending.
They need to press Bayern high up the pitch and work harder to win it back when they lose the ball – the forwards, the midfielders and the defenders should all be held accountable for defending, not just the four at the back.
Which brings me to organization. They need to be organized and show up there with some intent. If they let in a goal, it’s game over.
They need to man-up when Bayern pump balls into the box – there is no excuse these days for not defending set-pieces when they have height in their team and a goalkeeper worth his salt.
They have the quality at the back – Bacary Sagna, Thomas Vermaelen, Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny are all seasoned international defenders and there is no excuse for disorganization. It’s that alone that leads to the individual errors we see so often from Arsenal’s defenders. They must start communicating with each other.
Many are writing them off, understandably, but stranger things have happened in football. It’s highly highly unlikely Arsenal can beat Bayern Munich in the form they’re in, never mind by 3 away goals. But, you never know.
image: © Steenbergs