The Round of 16 of the 2012-2013 UEFA Champions League. Should be a fun match, but I gotta tell you guys, I'm not quite as confident as some people seem to be that this will be a blowout win for Bayern.
Javi Martinez will be available, as he's sufficiently recovered from his bruised toe joint. If he's 100 percent ready, I'd say he gets the start over Gustavo. Up top, there's a chance that Jupp Heynckes mixes is up and give Mario Gomez the start. But given Mandzukic's great form, I'd say Mandzu gets the start and Gomez serves as first sub if we need some instant offense (along with Robben). And, of course, Jerome Boateng is suspended after his red card in the last BATE match.
Here's my guess:
Ribery - Kroos - Mueller
Martinez - Schweinsteiger
Alaba - Dante - van Buyten - Lahm
Any disagreements? Seems like we all know what's coming
Most football fans know Arsenal as one of the most popular and successful clubs of the last quarter century, as their aggressive style and their international roster won them legions of fans. But most football fans also know that the Gunners have struggled mightily in the last few years (and especially in the last couple months), with some of their big name players departing and the younger guys failing to fill the void. Last year, Dutch striker Robin van Persie papered over a bunch of deficiencies as Arsenal still managed to get to the knock-out stage in the CL and secure a top-3 finish in the Prem.
But RvP is now gone to the midlands, and Arsenal hasn't been able to find the incisive finish when they need it. Twice they've been knocked out of domestic cup competitions by lower-division sides, and they barely managed to get out of the Group Stage in the CL as Schalke dominated the group. Some of their newcomers are showing flashes of excellent play, but none are able to replicate the consistent greatness that van Persie, Fabregas, and Nasri brought for the past several years.
Here's the thing, though: I still think Arsenal can threaten us if they catch us on the counter-attack. Podolski and Theo Walcott are dangerous if you give them the ball with enough space, and Santi Cazorla has been excellent for them this season: he has deft touch and can break down defenses and either find his teammates, or create a dangerous chance himself. While van Buyten gives us added stopping power on set pieces and high balls into the area, he can be beaten by quick dribblers. I'm not saying Bayern will lose, I'm just saying that, if we dominate possession for the whole first half but don't score, Arsenal definitely have the capability to bag one and then sit back and defend.
I expect that Gervinho won't figure for Arsenal. He looked like garbage in yesterday's loss to Blackburn. Their attacking trio will probably be Giroud in the middle and Walcott and Poldi on either side, with Cazorla nestled into the space behind the front line. But I'm going to ask Ted from The Short Fuse about this - he'll be dropping by tonight or tomorrow.
Defensively, though, I do think Arsenal will struggle to contain us. Nacho Monreal is cup-tied, so we'll face Merte, Koscielny (who has made a quick return from injury), Sagna, and someone else on the back line. If the Gunners don't commit at least 2 additional markers to stopping Bayern, especially from the wings, I think we have a good chance to create some serious problems for them. The shape of the match will probably be determined by Arsenal's willingness to battle Bayern in the middle of the field vs. sitting back and looking to mostly defend. If they sit back with 8 or 9 guys in the defensive third, we could be looking at a boring match, but if they try to snag an early goal, this could be a wide-open match with plenty of chances.
Elsewhere in the Competition
Along with our match, three other fixtures in the CL this week: Barcelona and AC Milan battle in the San Siro, with Milan's new star cup-tied, I believe. Watching Barca get knocked out at this stage would be great, but I don't see it. Then, Schalke faces a reinforced Galatasaray squad in a tough environment. But if S04 can come back with at least a draw, I like their chances to advance, with the subsequent leg in Gelsenkirchen.
Porto and Malaga face off in the weakest match of the set by far. I don't have any rooting interest here, other than I kind of like Benfica and Porto is one of their main rivals, so I guess I'm pulling for Malaga. If anyone wants to explain why we should like or dislike any of these clubs, I'm all ears.
- We kick off Tuesday afternoon at 7:45 London time. The start time is the same for people in the US, but if you live in Germany, be aware that this is an hour off from the normal time. Click below to see how it lines up in your zone:
Time converter at worldtimebuddy.com
- Two Germans in the Arsenal line-up (well, one German and one "German"). I doubt their experience playing with Die Nationalelf will give Mertesacker and Podolski any advantage in trying to stop Bayern's players, but it will be interesting to see the interaction.
- An interesting interview with Daniel van Buyten on the club's official site. He says this is the best Bayern team he's every played on.
- We'll be back with more either tonight or tomorrow, and I may put in a guest appearance at SB Nation's Arsenal blog, The Short Fuse. So stay tuned. Thanks for reading.