Bayern Munich v Arsenal (19th Feb-11th Mar)
It’s been the same old story for Bayern this season, extending their unbeaten league run to 46 games and losing just once in the group stages. Bayern will be hoping to go past Arsenal just like they did last year, but it certainly won’t get any easier for them.
The numbers speak for themselves as far as Bayern’s season is concerned so far. They have been simply incredible domestically. They’ve breezed past their opposition in the league and are cruising towards yet another Bundesliga crown as well as a domestic cup final on the horizon.
Bayern’s Champions League defence began with an immediate and devastating effect in the group stages. They took care of both Plzeñ and CSKA Moscow with ease both home and away, whilst taking Manchester City apart at the Etihad. It didn’t end in the best way for the Bavarians however, with a loss at the Allianz to Man City. Arsenal will see their Premier League compatriots result in Munich as a massive confidence boost before the knockout tie, especially after Arsenal went to the Allianz last season themselves and beat the German champions at the same stage of the competition.
Arsenal have had a wonderful season in the Premier League and are a major part of what could be a very entertaining title race towards the end of the season. They currently sit second in the league behind Chelsea and ahead of Man City with just three points between the three teams.
Arsenal have been dealt a difficult fixture list over February and March both domestically and of course in Europe. They’ve already played Liverpool and Manchester United in the league in the space of four days, failing to win in either game and taking a 5-1 beating at Anfield. They still have to play Swansea, Sunderland and Stoke around their Champions League ties.
So whilst Bayern are breezing through the Bundesliga, Arsenal have to fight hard in every league game they play to stay in contention for the title. This difficult fixture list for the Gunners could become a huge factor in the games against Bayern, especially after what could be a tiring first leg.
Bayern faced Freiburg at home on Saturday in the Bundesliga, hoping to extend their unbeaten league run to 46 games. Pep Guardiola rested David Alaba, Jerome Boateng and Mario Götze who came on from the bench in the second half. Bastian Schweinsteiger returned to the Bundesliga from the bench as Bayern cruised to a 4-0 win with goals from Shaqiri (2), Dante and Pizarro. It has been confirmed however, that Shaqiri will miss the first leg, having picked up a hamstring injury on Saturday.
There is more important injury news for both sides heading towards this game. Bayern will be without their Player of the Year of last season, Franck Ribéry, after he underwent an operation on his buttocks. But they are expected to welcome back Arjen Robben and Bastian Schweinsteiger from injury, meaning Ribéry’s absence might not be as pivotal as people first thought.
Arsenal are also missing big names, with Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey set to miss both legs through injury. Mikel Arteta is also absent from the first leg through suspension. So in reality, injury has given Arsenal a few more problems than it has to Bayern whose squad depth has been arguably their biggest strength this season.
Arsène Wenger (Arsenal coach):
We are in a much better mental shape today than we were one year ago because we lost against Blackburn at home in the FA Cup. It was a big disappointment for us, but this time we defeated Liverpool and we are really determined to win this game.
We know we face the competition favourites, but what we have is the belief because we’ve had big games in the Champions League and in the FA Cup. We played against Tottenham and against Liverpool, so since the start of the season we know that in every single game we have to be 100%.
We believe we can do it, but that’s down to the quality of our performance. We have a strong team spirit, that is for sure. We have a strong desire to do well and a united team. We always have these qualities, but perhaps we do not always have the belief – belief is built by results and on that front we are strong, of course.
Are Bayern the best team in the world? At the moment you can’t say the opposite – they win every game. They won the [FIFA Club] World Cup and the Champions League. You can only say ‘yes’.
Pep Guardiola (Bayern coach)
It’s my third time here to play Arsenal. I’ve never won here and I’ve learned that you can’t dominate for 90 minutes against Arsenal. You can play good and dominate for half the game perhaps, or for 70 minutes, but for 90 minutes it’s impossible.
With the quality of players Arsenal have we know they can cause [us] a problem, but we’ll try to play well, as best we possibly can. We don’t think too much about the second leg – we must concentrate on what we have to do tomorrow and I hope it goes well.
We are in the most prestigious competition in world football and in a perfect setting – here at Arsenal, in London – so it’s a good test for us. We are doing well in Germany, but now we face a good test to know what our level is. I’m looking forward to finding out.
I know how difficult it is to take the next step. I know what happened last year against Arsenal. Bayern won, but it was very difficult in the last five minutes. I have a lot of respect for my colleague Arsène Wenger. They have good organisation, they are always in good shape and they always organise with the ball, never without.
Prediction: Bayern to gain the upper hand in the first leg, making it too difficult to fight back in Munich, despite them giving the defending champions two very tough games.
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