Arsenal faces tough test vs. Bayern in CL, PSG hosts Madrid
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Arsene Wenger’s hopes of Arsenal turning around its floundering Champions League campaign rest on the daunting task of toppling Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich on Tuesday.
Despite rising to second in the Premier League, Arsenal has slumped to two losses against the same Champions League opponents that Bayern has crushed and sits last in Group F.
”We want to make something special against Bayern Munich as it is the only way we can keep in the race,” Wenger said after Arsenal’s 3-0 win at Watford on Saturday.
That ”special” something will be needed to derail the German juggernaut, which is on a 12-game winning streak that includes two easy wins over Olympiakos and Dinamo Zagreb by a combined score of 8-0 to sit atop the group with six points. Guardiola’s side has scored five goals on four occasions during that streak across all competitions, and it also won its last two visits to Arsenal in the 2013-14 and 2012-13 seasons.
The other marquee matchup of this week’s third series of group games is Real Madrid’s trip to Paris Saint-Germain with the Group A lead in dispute on Wednesday. Both sides have won their first two group games without conceding.
Defending champion Barcelona will take a long flight to BATE Borisov in Belarus in Group E on Tuesday, while English Premier League leader Manchester City hosts Sevilla in Group D on Wednesday.
Here are some more things to know about this week’s matches:
With little domestic competition and the Bundesliga title seemingly already in the bag, Bayern can concentrate its full efforts on capturing its first Champions League under Guardiola.
The Spanish coach is under pressure to deliver Europe’s ultimate prize following meek semifinal exits in his first two seasons in charge after taking over from Jupp Heynckes, who was pushed toward retirement despite claiming a historic treble.
Bayern set a new Bundesliga record Saturday by becoming the first side to start the league with nine wins.
Despite missing Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben, Mario Goetze and Kingsley Coman through injury, and leaving Javi Martinez and Douglas Costa on the bench, Bayern dominated at Werder Bremen – with nearly 90 percent possession in the first half – before emerging with a 1-0 win.
”The performance was enough this time, but we’ll need more in the coming weeks,” Guardiola warned.
BLANC HOPEFUL ON INJURIES
PSG is sweating over the fitness of three of its best players ahead of its clash with Madrid.
Goalkeeper Kevin Trapp picked up a thigh injury at training while defender David Luiz damaged a knee on international duty with Brazil. Italy international Marco Verratti was also left out of the PSG squad that won 2-0 at Bastia on Saturday because of a calf injury.
PSG coach Laurent Blanc remains in an optimistic mood, though.
”We have high hopes of having the players back for the (Madrid) match,” Blanc said. ”Not only to have them back, but also that they will be competitive enough during the game itself.”
PSG lost in the quarterfinals to Barcelona last season while missing key players and Blanc has decided to rotate his squad more than usual in order to have his main men ready for the big matches.
Against Bastia, he rested winger Angel Di Maria, who is expected to feature against his former club. In five seasons with Madrid, Di Maria scored 22 goals and was also the man of the match in the 2014 Champions League final when Madrid beat city rival Atletico to lift its 10th European title.
Knocks have also left Madrid limping into its toughest match of the group phase.
Despite having a deep squad to draw on, Rafa Benitez is missing first-choice players from defense, midfield and attack.
Danilo did return to replace the injured Dani Carvajal in the starting lineup of Saturday’s 3-0 win over Levante, when Cristiano Ronaldo scored to help lift Madrid to the top of the Spanish league.
But Benitez couldn’t count on centerbacks Sergio Ramos and Pepe, striker Karim Benzema and midfielders James Rodriguez and Luka Modric due to injury.
Like Blanc, Benitez is hopeful that he can get some of his stars back in time for the clash at the Parc des Princes.
”I don’t know, we are working toward that,” Benitez said on Saturday. ”I spoke with them this morning and they all say that they want to play, but we will have to evaluate them.”