The Champions League Round of 16. This is a stage at which anything can happen. As superior as Bayern looked in the first leg, there was a period in the second half when Arsenal had cut the deficit to one and it was very much a live match. And now, we'll be without some household names.
Boateng is still finishing his suspension, and Bastian will be out on accumulated yellows. That right there is a pair of meaningful losses, but it gets worse: Ribery has now been ruled out with an ankle problem. Arjen Robben was out over the weekend with a calf problem, and also didn't practice today.
We still have plenty of options at forward, but (as we saw vs. Fortuna) Ribery has sometimes been the only guy making aggressive runs at the opponent and pressuring their defense. Kroos and Mueller both work better playing off of a dribbler/trickster type, rather trying to do that on their own. Shaqiri is an option, but he's a little raw and we haven't looked as good with both Ribery and Robben out. Here's how I see us lining up:
Shaqiri - Kroos - Mueller
Gustavo - Martinez
Alaba - Dante - van Buyten - Lahm
I'd love to see Robben pull a Willis Reed and save the day, but I think he'll either be out or be limited to bench duty. Believe it or not, guys, I still think this ^ line-up is much better than anything Arsenal can put together. Kroos and Mueller have been growing up in front of us for the last couple years, it time for them to show they can run the game themselves if they have to.
Arsenal's Olivier Giroud gives some statements about how he's hopeful. I think they'll probably start him this time, unlike last leg's formation that had Walcott at the top of the formation (and that didn't really work at all). Despite the fact that the Gunners need to chase the game, Arsenal's defense is still key. If they get cut apart and give Bayern chances to score, there's a good chance we'll get an additional goal (which would pretty much kill the tie) at some point. But if they stay strong on the back line and hold Bayern out of the net, there's at least some possibility that they could score the three they need.
Not that it's very likely, but there would be a chance. Meanwhile, Arsenal is looking at some injury problems of their own: Jack Wilshere is not even expected to make the trip. Jack had been rehabbing in Dubai, and he returned to London on time. But the most recent reports are that Wilshere will be gone, leaving (probably) Aaron Ramsey and Arteta at the double-pivot. This is an interesting battle; with Goose in our midfield, we don't really have the kind of set-up to control possession and work the keep-away passing game. I wonder if Jupp Heynckes would consider moving Kroos back into the midfield spot (where he played in last year's CL Final) and then replacing him with another striker? Like this:
------ Gomez - Mandzukic -----
Shaqiri --------------- Mueller
--- Martinez ---- Kroos ---------
Alaba - Dante - van Buyten - Lahm
Just thinking out loud, but that could work. Kroos would still have the freedom to push forward if we decisively won possession of the ball (making it almost a 4-1-3-2?). But is that too aggressive when we're coming into the match with a lead?
Elsewhere in the Competition
Schalke and Galatasaray go into tomorrow's match level at one, while Barca is trying to erase a 2-goal deficit to Milan. And concurrent with Bayern's match is Porto vs. Malaga, the forgotten tie of this round. I'll do a Match Day Thread for tomorrow's matches, but I'm trying not to worry too much about the non-Bayern matches at this point.
- We kick off at 8:45 PM local time from the Allianz. This is now a 3:45 PM start my time - for the relevasnt time where you are now, click below:
Time converter at worldtimebuddy.com
- Rooney is rumored to be heading to Bayern II. Sounds like a good fit. Wait ... no, they say headed to Bayern. Ha, no I think not.
- In addition to our suspendees, Dante and Javi Martinez are one yellow away from a suspension. They'll surely be trying to avoid one, not knowing who our next opponent would be (if we even advance). Now, if we happen to advance, and if we happen to draw a non-elite opponent, maybe one or both of them would consider picking up a deliberate card in the first leg (especially with Bastian and Boateng set to return).
- Nice, light-hearted article about Boateng's first league goal on the club's official site.
- Losing Ribery obviously hurts, but this could be a good growth experience. I'm curious to see what Kroos and Mueller can do when really given the keys. Now ... of course, if Robben ends up healthy, then it's still pretty much an All-Star line-up. Either way, an early Arsenal goal is the outcome to avoid. If we can keep them off the board (and maybe even filch one of our own) in the first 30 minutes, we can probably put this one in the bank.
Anyway, look for updates here and on our twitter feed as more injury news becomes available. Thanks for reading.