By Tim Todd der Weinermeister
I’ve been there, twice. Away fans in the Allianz arena are segregated high up in the corner of the stadium, as far away from the action as possible. As far away from Bayern’s “ultras” as possible.
The vast majority of the fans in the Allianz arena are middle-class blanket warmers. Like Anfield or any of the big clubs I’ve seen in Europe, most fans are older, moneyed, and mostly annoyed at the idea of having to chant or sing. At the Allianz arena they handed out clappers one year, a fan-like device which made a loud clacking noise when you waved it, and the next year they handed out rattles. The Bayern fans sat politely with their blankets on their legs, spinning their rattles whenever their team did something well.
I remember Podolski’s goal. I remember that Bayern felt he fouled Lahm in the build up. But the ref allowed the tackle and while Bayern were waving imaginary rattles, Podolski waltzed in and fired a rocket past Neuer. Podolski only ever fired rockets, when he could be bothered to bring his shin pads.
I remember the match in 2013. Arsenal went into the tie basically defeated after a 3-1 loss at home to the Bavarians. But an early goal by Giroud and some stalwart defending gave the Arsenal supporters hope heading into the second half. And then in the 85th minute, from seemingly nothing, Koscielny scored a second goal. Arsenal were level on aggregate but needed an extra goal to go ahead on the away goals rule. Those final 8 minutes were among the most tense, the most hopeful I’ve ever felt at an Arsenal match. I just knew, KNEW, that we were going through to the next round. But Bayern shut up shop and Arsenal couldn’t even create another shot. Just like the only other time I felt that hopeful and certain of an outcome, the League Cup final against Birmingham, Arsenal fell just short.
And now here we are again, back in Bavaria, with a slight twinge of hope that Arsenal could progress. After all this isn’t the same killer Bayern side that Arsenal faced years ago. Lahm and Alonso are about to retire at 35 years old, Robben and Ribery should have retired a few years ago but play on at age 33, Lewandowski is starting to fade, Muller is a shell of himself from the last few years (though United reportedly bid £80m on him!), and Vidal has always looked like he was on the verge of physical collapse.
Despite some ageing stars Bayern are hardly a collection of old men. Alcantara, Costa, Kimmich, Alaba, and Kingsley Coman are available and they are among the world’s best young physical specimens. Judging by Wenger’s comments in the pre-match build up where he states “Bayern will, as always, try to dominate the game and have lots of possession. We will play an offensive team with a high tempo and lots of experience. That’s why we’ll have to give a big performance.” And Aaron Ramsey suggesting that Arsenal need to get in their face a bit, it seems like Arsenal are going to try to outhustle Bayern in this match. Combined with solid defending, this is a good strategy. We saw PSG deploy this strategy against Barcelona and walk away 4-0 winners.
Arsenal need to control Bayern’s midfield duo of Alcantara and Alonso. Alcantara is an especially tricky player to control and it will be interesting to see what kind of lineup Wenger chooses in midfield to try to get the ball back off him. I expect a 5-man Arsenal midfield with Alexis actually dropping in to help press Xabi and Thiago and Özil playing furthest forward.
As for Arsenal, almost everything will depend on taking our chances. Bayern won’t give up many shots, they conceded just 6 per game on average in the Champions League at home. But they will concede at least one or two big chances in this match. Given the dearth of opportunities, Arsenal absolutely cannot be wasteful today if we want a win. Though, a 0-0 draw is acceptable, that away goal is crucial, it’s just that little bit of an edge and insurance in the return fixture.
To all the Gooners who are in Munich, have a great time and raise a toast for me. Here’s to a memorable night.