With a massive clash in the UEFA Champions League coming up for Arsenal in Germany on Wednesday, how will Arsene Wenger line the Gunners up?
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Wenger, 67, will be on the sidelines for the first time in over a month as his four-game touchline ban is now over and was only for domestic games.
Arsenal head to the Allianz Arena to face Bayern Munich for the first leg of their UCL Round of 16 tie with uncertainty still swirling about the future of Wenger beyond this season, plus the futures of star players Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil.
Putting all of this aside, Wenger badly needs a positive result or even a draw would be deemed as successful from the trip to Bavaria.
Remember: Arsenal has been knocked out at the last 16 stage in each of their last six UCL campaigns, with Bayern dumping them out twice in that run.
Yet, Wenger will be optimistic after his side have beaten Bayern away from home in two of their last three trips to the Allianz, going unbeaten across those three encounters. With Carlo Ancelotti’s men top of the Bundesliga but yet to hit to form in the 2016-17 season, this is a chance for top four chasing Arsenal to put aside their recent Premier League woes and reignite their season.
Let’s take a look below at how Wenger could line Arsenal up in Munich, bearing in mind a draw would be plenty good enough.
Arsenal’s starting XI at Bayern Munich
—– Ospina —–
— Bellerin — Mustafi — Koscielny — Gibbs —
—- Coquelin —- Xhaka —-
— Walcott — Ozil — Chamberlain —
—– Sanchez —–
Wenger has already confirmed that Ospina will play ahead of usual first-choice goalkeeper Petr Cech, as he continues with his policy of playing the Colombian international in all of the cup games.
The defense pretty much picks itself, with only the left back slot up for debate. With Nacho Monreal left out of the win against Hull City, Kieran Gibbs offered plenty in attack and although he could’ve been sent off for a last-ditch foul on Lazar Markovic, he looked reasonably solid in defense. I’d go with Gibbs but wouldn’t be surprised if Monreal starts.
In midfield is where the real issue is. With Jack Wilshere out on loan, plus Aaron Ramsey and Santi Cazorla injured, there aren’t many options for Wenger. Yet, with a fluid Bayern offense knowing that a big home win would all but see them through to the quarterfinals, Wenger will need protection in front of his back four. Francis Coquelin makes tackles, interceptions and tracks runners in his sleep and alongside him Granit Xhaka should start for added assurance. Given his experience of playing in Germany, Xhaka’s return from suspension should be key if (and it’s a big ‘if’) he can keep his head.
With the 4-2-3-1 formation, the only change I’d make to the starting lineup at the weekend would be to shift Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain from the center out to the left flank in place of Alex Iwobi. The former adds a little more defensive stability and although he has been digging deep in a central role, I still think his best position is out wide where he can cut in and send strikes in on goal or whip in dangerous deliveries.
Alexis Sanchez plays up top on his own but will have license to roam with Theo Walcott and Mesut Ozil both on the prowl alongside Sanchez.