Arsenal v Bayern Munich: Arsene Wenger faces selection headache with Mikel Arteta suspended and choice between Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Tomas Rosicky
Mathieu Flamini looks set to deputise for the suspended Mikel Arteta and with Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil all expected to start, Wenger has a big decision to make
Tuesday 18 February 2014
Arsene Wenger will have to decide between the in-form Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and workhorse Tomas Rosicky ahead of Arsenal’s Champions League last-16 first leg against holders Bayern Munich on Wednesday, as he will be without vice-captain and influential midfielder Mikel Arteta due to suspension.
Arteta was shown a second yellow card in the final minutes of the Gunners 2-0 loss to Napoli, where another goal for the Serie A side would have seen the Premier League club knocked out of the competition and competing in the latter stages of the Europa League.
Oxlade-Chamberlain missed the trip to Naples as he spent the first five months of the season on the sidelines due to a serious knee injury, but his return has seen him flourish in the Arsenal starting line-up with match-winning performances against Crystal Palace and Liverpool this month.
However, Rosicky is seen as a safer option in midfield given his desire to hold back more than the England international, whereas Oxlade-Chamberlain has shown a desire to charge into the opposition’s box when the opportunity arises.
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Given the ease with which Bayern’s midfield of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Tony Kroos and Javi Martinez tore the Gunners apart last season, Wenger will be fully aware that Oxlade-Chamberlain’s natural attacking mind-set could leave his side exposed, with the likes of Thomas Mueller, Arjen Robben and Mario Mandzukic ready to pounce on the counter attack.
Mathieu Flamini looks set to deputise for Arteta in the holding role, although Wenger will be keen for the Frenchman to maintain a restrained approach given his yellow card for a rash tackle on Steven Gerrard on Sunday coming after he had just returned from a three-match ban for a straight red against Southampton in January.
Both Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla should be fit to return to the starting XI for the encounter after they were named on the bench for the FA Cup victory, while Mesut Ozil is certain to continue his search for his best form.
That leaves just one position in the midfield left to fill, with the decision split between Rosicky and Cazorla leaving Wenger with a tactical head-scratcher. Get it wrong, and Arsenal could be out of the tie before the first leg is even finished, much worse than the 3-1 loss they suffered in the same fixture last season.
The Frenchman, dubbed ‘The Professor’, appeared in a confident mood though, insisting that his side understand the German’s style of play much more this season than the last time they met.
“I think we know them better than we did last year,” said Wenger. “We will be in a better condition, hopefully, because 12 months ago we played them after the disappointment of losing to Blackburn.
“We were in a much more difficult position in the league as well, so this season we are better prepared to go into a game of that stature.
“Successful league seasons often come with cup runs. The FA Cup conflicts sometimes with the Champions League, but if you win in the FA Cup, it puts you in a better way for the rest of the season. It brings more positive vibes which is always important.”
Wenger can also look back and take heart from his consecutive meetings with Barcelona back in 2009-10 and 2010-11. Arsenal drew the home leg with the formidable Catalans before losing 4-1 in the second, and while they were eliminated again the following season, they did record an incredible 2-1 victory at home. Has Robin van Persie not been shown a second yellow card for shooting when offside at the Nou Camp, history could be very different given that the Gunners were leading on aggregate at the time. Barcelona went on the win that season’s Champions League.
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