Too soon to write off Arsenal

Andy Schooler is refusing to join those prepared to write off Arsenal ahead of tonight's Champions League clash with Bayern Munich.

Last Updated: 19/02/13 at 20:33 Post Comment

Wilshere, Walcott and Cazorla: All set to return for Arsenal

Wilshere, Walcott and Cazorla: All set to return for Arsenal

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It's no surprise to see the media focus of the past few days landed squarely at the door of the Emirates Stadium.

After all, FA Cup defeat to Blackburn was the first time under the management of Arsene Wenger that the Gunners had lost to lower-league opposition in the competition.

Yet it should be remembered a series of team changes were made for that fixture with the focus on Tuesday's Champions League clash with Bayern Munich.

Wenger is right to say he put out a side strong enough to see off a Championship club on home soil but there is no doubt it was not the strongest team he could have selected.

That won't be the case against Bayern.

The players most likely to win a match for Arsenal will all return to the starting XI, namely Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla and Theo Walcott.

Will they be good enough to defeat a side who went very close to lifting the trophy last season though?

It will certainly be a tough task, for Bayern arrive, as you may have seen, with a superb away record in their domestic league.

It's 10 wins from 11 away games in the Bundesliga with just a single goal conceded. Even if you don't consider the German top flight to be the equal of the Premier League, that's a remarkable achievement.

However, it's certainly interesting to note that Bayern managed to keep just one clean sheet during their six group-stage matches, a run which saw them lose 3-1 away to BATE Borisov and draw in Valencia.

It's not the biggest sample but it suggests that when the opposition gets tougher then they are much more vulnerable.

As already suggested, some will say Arsenal is no longer a step up in class, yet I'd be wary about writing them off, certainly at home.

Last season Milan were beaten 3-0 at the Emirates at this last-16 stage. That result admittedly came after a 4-0 defeat in the San Siro but frankly few gave them a shred of a chance going into the game but the supposedly inferior Gunners dominated the second leg.

The season before, the mighty Barcelona were beaten 2-1 in north London.

You can argue, with some justification, that Arsenal are no longer as strong, but such results show the Gunners are capable of lifting their game for such clashes.

Arsenal seem to prefer to play against a team who comes to take them on, rather than those who seek to stifle and with the attacking talent Bayern have at their disposal - think Mario Mandzukic, Franck Ribery, Mario Gomez - then it's hard not to think that Arsenal won't get a chance to knock the ball around as they like to do.

Certainly domestic results - where goals have flowed in Arsenal games - back up this theory. Liverpool, Brighton, Swansea and Newcastle were all prepared to 'have a go' in recent weeks and goals resulted. It is worth noting the Gunners did not lose any of those games.

The aforementioned trio of Wilshere, Cazorla and Walcott are more than capable of troubling the visitors' defence, one shorn of the suspended Jerome Boateng. Walcott, in particular, will look to profit from any chinks that could appear in the backline as a result.

Arsenal are just under 3/1 for victory in the first leg. There could be some value there and certainly Bayern, for whom a draw will be perfectly acceptable ahead of the return leg, look short at 11/10.

The draw doesn't look a bad bet at 27/10 but, feeling the Gunners may be a tad overpriced, the way I'm going to go is to back the the hosts in the draw-no-bet market. They are 7/4 in it and I'll try a small investment.

In the night's other game, Malaga also look tempting at 4/1 to win away to Porto.

The Spaniards lit up the group stage, staying unbeaten and winning a pool which included AC Milan and Zenit St Petersburg.

The concern would be Porto's confidence levels are sky high after a season which has seen them lose just twice in all competitons.

In Jackson Martínez they have a goalscorer of real note - he has scored in nine of Porto's last 10 games.

The Portuguese league is certainly not at the level of La Liga, however, and I'd be edging towards the Andalusians at the prices.

Again the draw-no-bet option would appear to be safest - Malaga can be backed in it at 13/5 - but I'm going to leave this one alone on this occasion.


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