Arsenal host Bayern Munich in one of the most-anticipated Champions League last 16 ties at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday.
Arsene Wenger’s side have come under a lot of criticism recently with a dip in form in the Premier League and elimination from the FA Cup at home to Championship side Blackburn Rovers on Saturday.
The long-serving manager at the London club was very defensive in Monday’s press conference, both about their recent defeat and with the pressure of facing one of Europe’s best sides in Bayern Munich this week.
The German side are 15 points clear of their league with just 12 games remaining. Essentially, the league is over and Bayern Munich can put their focus on the Champions League. They also have a German Cup quarter-final with Borussia Dortmund the following Wednesday with the potential of a treble still on.
Bayern Munich were less impressive in their Champions League group games. They conceded more goals in those 6 games than they have in 22 Bundesliga games this season. Only Real Madrid (9), Arsenal (8) and Celtic (8) conceded more goals in the group stage than Bayern Munich’s 7 of the 16 teams who remain in the competition.
Going forward, Bayern scored 15 goals in the group stage, in which only Chelsea (16) scored more. They have also scored 57 in the league this season, with Mario Mandzukic (15) and Thomas Müller (11) being the leading marksmen.
Manuel Neuer kept just 1 clean sheet in the 6 group games, a 1-0 victory in Lille. Bayern Munich scored exactly 1 goal in all 3 of their away games, which included a surprise 3-1 defeat on a wet night and muddy pitch at BATE Borisov. Domestically, Neuer has been forced into just 1 save in the last 280 minutes of Bundesliga action. That came on Friday night via a 77th minute direct free kick from Wolfsburg’s Diego.
A perfect record at home ultimately meant they won the group, although they could only earn a 1-1 draw at 10-man Valencia.
In the league, Bayern Munich have won 10 of 11 away games, conceding just 1 goal (a swerving 30 yard strike from Nürnberg’s Markus Feulner which deceived Manuel Neuer). It is worth noting that Bayern have yet to travel to Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen or Schalke 04.
They did thrash Schalke 04 4-0 less than a fortnight ago, a side who won 2-0 at Arsenal. Admittedly, Schalke have lost Lewis Holtby, a lot of form, their manager and confidence since that victory at the Emirates as they have slipped down the league.
Here is a more in-depth look at the likely starters on Tuesday:
Manuel Neuer – 5 clean sheets in 5 games following the winter break. Manuel Neuer can be expected to be busier on Tuesday than he has been in the Bundesliga recently. Germany’s number 1 in a period where they have a number of young and talented goalkeepers around. A very good shot stopper, was linked to Manchester United. Difficult to beat.
Philipp Lahm – A very good attacking full back who links well with Thomas Müller down the right wing. I feel he is a bit overrated defensively and should be given a test by Lukas Podolski down the left hand side. The former FC Köln player was quiet in both games versus Bayern last season, but played a central striker’s role and had little support.
Dante – The Brazilian centre back has been a solid acquisition since his summer move from Borussia Mönchengladbach. Good in the air, comfortable on the ball. Could be used to eliminate Olivier Giroud’s aerial threat. Also attacks set pieces well himself.
Daniel van Buyten – The ageing centre back has played 4 games since the winter break and kept a clean sheet in each. Jerome Boateng has only played once since then and may not be fully fit to play this one. The tall Belgian defender is also good defending the long ball, something which Arsenal don’t play so much. Likes to receive the ball a lot during games, but never does anything special with it. Apart from the rare screamer.
David Alaba – The young Austrian started as a midfielder at Bayern Munich, but has since settled back in the left back role. His pace will help counter the threat of Theo Walcott down the right wing and his attacking nature may leave space for the English forward to exploit.
The midfielder-come-full back could be set with the task of dealing with Theo Walcott down the right wing.
Bastian Schweinsteiger – The heart and soul of this team, Bastian Schweinsteiger is the heartbeat in midfield. A very intelligent player who picks the perfect opportunity to burst into the opposition half, usually on the counter attack. He finds space when not on the ball, and with it he can provide both great passes and crosses as well as being an excellent set piece taker. Alongside whichever holding midfielder plays with him, Schweinsteiger usually wins possession more than any other player during the 90 minutes.
Javi Martinez – The big summer signing from Athletic Bilbao has improved the squad since last season. Comfortable on the ball and less adventurous than his central midfield partner, Javi Martinez is also very good at break up the play of the opposition. He may match up to Santi Cazorla, leaving Jack Wilshere and Schweinsteiger to battle it out elsewhere.
Thomas Müller – The young German forward has found his best form this season. And this is a player who won the 2010 World Cup Golden Boot after his first full season as a professional. Few defences have been able to handle Thomas Müller this season. Starting on the right wing, he enjoys drifting inside the penalty, either finding space for himself, or opening space up for Philipp Lahm to exploit down the right wing. Sometimes switches roles with Mario Mandzukic in attacks.
Toni Kroos – The young attacking midfield fought off competition from Thomas Müller as the regular player in the hole, Toni Kroos has 6 goals and 7 assists domestically this season, in a team that has a wealth of attacking talent. Offers a good set piece delivery, is a good passer of the ball and enjoys a long range shot. May fancy his chances against Wojciech Szczesny who has been troubled from distance in the past.
Franck Ribery – If Müller and Kroos aren’t enough to deal with, Franck Ribery completes the attacking midfield trio. Playing on the left wing he will tussle with Bacary Sagna. Likes to attack the penalty area over getting to the byline and hooking a cross into the box. Created a number of chances and goals for team mates this season. Also won a number of free kicks and penalties because he’s good at conning a referee.
Arjen Robben and Xherdan Shaqiri are other options for Jupp Heynckes down the wing.
Mario Mandzukic – 15 goals in 19 Bundesliga appearances in his debut season with Bayern Munich. Started the season following an injury to Mario Gomez and hasn’t let the German striker have much of an opportunity since. It’s possible Mario Gomez gets the nod ahead in this game, but I think the sensible choice would be with the Croatian who is more of an all-round player and who links the play up better than Gomez.
Any Hope for Arsenal?
Bayern Munich managed to choke in last season’s final in front of their home crowd versus Chelsea in the final. They’re even better this season and I suspect more determined to make up for last year’s failure.
Arsenal’s form domestically is poor and they have injury problems in defence. I am expecting Thomas Müller and Philipp Lahm to cause the most problems for this Arsenal defence down the right wing. But with Ribery, Kroos, Schweinsteiger, Mandzukic, Robben, Shaqiri and Gomez to call upon too, there’s just too much attacking talent and options for this Arsenal defence to cope with.
The Bayern Munich defence hasn’t been tested back home recently, so it’s hard to judge how good they really are. Theo Walcott and Bacary Sagna can really cause them problems if they can get hold of the ball. Ribery will help out Alaba defending, but the advantage stands with Arsenal here.
They’re in-form, they’re consistent, they have a wealth of talent. I think Bayern Munich will win the first leg in London and even if they don’t I cannot see the Gunners progressing over 2 legs. Bayern Munich are currently 1.93 to win on the night with Betfair, and an enticing 3.2 to win -1.5 on the Asian Handicap with Bet365.