Last time when Arsenal played Bayern Munich, defensive discipline was the buzzword. The Gunners’ 2–0 win over the German champions last month was, statistically at least, a very defensively disciplined performance; a clean sheet against the tournament top-scorers will be anything but.
What Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger won’t be able to call upon later tonight when they play Bayern at the Allianz Arena is the same back four which did a job the last time out. Hector Bellerin — the youngest and the most effervescent of the four defenders — will sit the game out through a groin injury, and this brings Wenger an entirely different set of problems to solve.
But Wenger is once again counting on his side’s defensive discipline. And quite rightly so, given the Gunners have only conceded four times in their last five games. And worryingly for them, Bellerin’s replacement, Mathieu Debuchy, played in that 3–0 loss to Sheffield Wednesday in the League Cup last week.
“Defensively discipline will be vital tomorrow, of course, but I think we have players with experience at the back and what is important for us is that we show that discipline,” Wenger said in his pre-Bayern press conference. Debuchy is sort of a rotten apple at the back; having played only four times this season, the Frenchman is expected to be off sync and playing on a different wavelength to his peers.
Debuchy received a yellow card in that League Cup game for unlawfully stopping a opposition counter, and Wenger has clearly set the rules for his players to not cross the fine line between “being committed and not gving fouls away.”
“We don’t want to get stupid yellow cards and we don’t want to commit undue fouls. We need to manage a good balance between being committed and not giving fouls away,” he added.
Arsenal could be in a perilous position in their group should they contrive to lose tonight, a situation which could be said to be of their own making. Five goals conceded in two games against Dinamo Zagreb and Olympiakos led to the Gunners losing both their opening group stage fixtures, games where their defensive discipline went for a toss.
Whether Arsenal can withstand the superior attacking prowess of Bayern depends solely on how well the new combination at the back fares. With the likes of Douglas Costa extremely adept in 1v1 situations plus the absence of some of the key Arsenal first-team players could mean a win tonight could be a task too tough for the north Londoners.
But Wenger believes in his team’s togetherness. “We have a good togetherness and I believe we really a team who stick together when things don’t go well.” It was this togetherness that handed them their win in the return fixture last month, and something similar — in defensive terms — could set the tone for a historic result in Munich.