Arsenal faces daunting task against Bayern Munich
Arsenal faces a daunting task on Tuesday night when they travel to Munich’s Allianz arena for a date with the reigning champions of Europe, live on FOX Sports 1 at 3 p.m. ET. Down by two goals after a disastrous first home leg performance three weeks ago, the Gunners must hope they can start firing against a deadly Bayern Munich side – while keeping their own net free and clear. As it stands, they need three goals to progress.
Both teams are entering off big wins on the weekend: Arsenal cruised into the FA Cup semifinals behind a 4-1 thumping of Everton that gives the club hope they may finally end their nine-year trophy drought.
"It was important for us to win to put us in a good frame of mind psychologically," said Wenger on Saturday after watching his side dispatch Everton. "We can be inspired by our focus and desire and now go to Bayern with the same spirit. The statistics go against us, but let’s make sure the performance goes for us and then we have a chance."
Bayern were held for an hour by a gritty Wolfsburg side before exploding with five goals in the second half to run up a 6-1 win. Thomas Muller scored twice in the game to continue his red-hot run of form; he now has five goals in his past three matches. Yet he cautioned reporters on Monday that Bayern weren’t looking past the Londonders.
"We have won our last 16 games in the Bundesliga,” said Muller. “We always turn up, everybody always wants to win. We are not careless or arrogant. We always concentrate and want to win."
The lessons of the first meeting between these two teams still resonate. After a flying start, Arsenal’s game turned when Mesut Ozil’s weakly struck penalty was easily saved by Manuel Neuer. Wojciech Szczesny would subsequently be sent off in a questionable decision for fouling Arjen Robben, and Bayern would win out 2-0. Ozil has taken weeks to recover and has suffered some abuse – he was whistled off the field in Germany’s friendly win against Chile despite setting up the winning goal.
Ozil finally broke his duck Saturday, scoring the opener against Everton – and looks a changed man. If he can keep that confidence and swagger, and link up well with striker Olivier Giroud, then Arsenal have a chance.
“Hopefully we can keep a clean sheet first and maybe if we score early, why not?” said Giroud on Saturday. "We have a good chance if we believe in our quality. Bayern are a really good team so it will be a tough game, but I think we have a chance to go through.”
Toni Kroos put on a master class in that first leg as well, and if there is any controversy around this match it is that he dropped a strong hint that he is on his way out of Bavaria for richer climes. Coveted by both Manchester United and Arsenal, Kroos told reporters, “It is no secret the Premier league is a possibility for me.” His manager, Pep Guardiola, immediately moved to tamp down the speculation, but Kroos’ future has become a key subplot as Bayern’s season moves ahead.
But Kroos is not looking past this game, with good reason: last season, Arsenal stunned Bayern at home with a 2-0 win in a tie that was, like this one, effectively dead. Bayern ended up going through 3-3 on the away goals rule, but it was a wake-up call for them. They would like not to make the same mistakes.
"2-0 is a risky score line, as we saw last year," said Kroos Monday. "Fortunately, we had a 3-1 lead last year. We are looking forward to this game. We are hoping we can play a very good game and the Germans on the other side are not too good. But you cannot take anything for granted. They are a very good team and have to get two goals back. They will give it their very best.”
Franck Ribery will again miss this match for Bayern, but they have no other major issues. The same is not so for the Gunners, who will be without Szczesny (suspended) and a host of regulars: Jack Wilshere suffered a hairline fracture in his foot while on England duty; Theo Walcott is a long-term absentee and both Nacho Monreal and Aaron Ramsey are short of full fitness.
So, how can Arsenal tame Bayern? They will have to play a perfect game, pressing high up the field with Giroud as the first defender; move well off the ball, and above all, run like hell. Tomas Rosicky and Santi Cazorla are looking as if they are back to top form, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain proved he can take pressure off with his rampaging runs. Kieran Gibbs will have to be at his very best – when he went off injured against Bayern in the first leg early, it was clear Monreal was unequal to the task. Most of all, they cannot concede an early goal.
If they can do all these things – and make no mistake, it is a tough ask – then, why not? But if history holds, Arsenal will be left on Wednesday morning out of Europe, in third place in Premier League, and chasing Chelsea and City for that crown.