Arsenal set for mission impossible

Bayern Munich host Arsenal in the second leg of their Champions League round of 16 tie on Wednesday night with the German side holding a 3-1 lead from the first leg at the Emirates Stadium three weeks ago.

Allianz Arena

Arsenal will need to score at least 3 goals on the night to progress. Their opponents have only conceded that number once in 37 games in all competitions this season. It came in a one-off performance, losing 3-1 at BATE Borisov back at the start of October.

Since then, Bayern Munich have been flying. Literally. They’ve lost just one game since and head into their second leg on an 11-match winning streak in all competitions. This includes a 4-0 victory over Schalke 04, a side that won 2-1 at the Emirates in the group stage. Admittedly Bayern played Schalke at the lowest point of their season.

Arsenal’s form isn’t quite as impressive. And whilst the Bavarians were fighting it out in a struggled 3-2 victory over Fortuna Düsseldorf on Saturday, Arsenal had the weekend off due to a conveniently timed round of FA Cup matches. A competition the Gunners were eliminated in in their match immediately before the first leg of this tie.

That means Arsene Wenger’s side will have had 9 days rest prior to Wednesday and more time to think about their 2-1 loss at arch enemies Tottenham Hotspur in their previous game.

Their defeat at White Hart Lane saw two poor pieces of defending that allowed Tottenham to score on two one-on-one situations. The second half also showed that for all the possession Arsenal had they failed to create that many chances apart from the one goal they scored.

The 10 goals conceded by Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga this season is the best defensive record in any of Europe’s top 5 leagues. The next best are Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain who have each conceded 18 goals. Both sides have already booked their place in the quarter-finals. The next best record in Germany’s top flight is held by SC Freiburg who have shipped 28 goals this season.

That’s not even half of the story of how dominant Bayern Munich have been in their own country this season. They lead the Bundesliga by an incredible 20 points with just 9 games remaining. They are guaranteed to win the title by winning their next three league matches and could even win the title by the end of March by winning their next two games and Borussia Dortmund failing to do the same.

The 67 goals scored by Bayern Munich is at least bettered by Barcelona (85) and Manchester United (68) in Europe’s top 5 leagues this season. The Premier League side have scored 1 more goal having played 3 extra games.

In Europe it hasn’t all been plain sailing for Jupp Heynckes’ side. They only won their group by virtue of a better head-to-head record with group runners-up Valencia. They were beaten by BATE Borisov and their only clean sheet in their first 7 matches came during a 1-0 victory in Lille. Compare that to the 17 clean sheets in 25 games in their own league.

Whilst Bayern Munich remain on course for the treble, the Champions League is the only cup Arsenal remain in. Eliminated by lower league opposition in both the FA Cup (Blackburn Rovers) and League Cup (Bradford City) this season, they also trail Premier League leaders Manchester United by 24 points with 10 games to play. Finishing in the top 4 and qualifying for next season’s Champions League will be their biggest priority after elimination from this season’s tournament.

Some good news for Wenger’s side is that Franck Ribery was announced injured and unavailable on Monday. The French forward has been one of the stars again in the Bundesliga this season, and although he wasn’t a key player in the first leg, he is still a loss to the side.

Waiting in his wings are both Arjen Robben and Xherdan Shaqiri to start this match on the left wing. The former Chelsea forward was rested at the weekend with a calf injury. Should he not be fit for this game, Shaqiri is a highly-rated young Swiss international who has featured in 5 of Bayern Munich’s Champions League games this season. Albeit 4 appearances from the bench.

Ribery’s injury means he joins Bastian Schweinsteiger and Jerome Boateng on the absentees list for Bayern Munich. Both of those through suspension. Boateng too missed the first leg through suspension, so the back four from that game remain in place (David Alaba, Dante, Daniel van Buyten, Philipp Lahm).

As for Schweinsteiger, he is a big loss to the side. Luiz Gustavo is expected to line up in his place, alongside Javi Martinez. The only previous game these two have started together was the 3-1 loss in Borisov. Both players have started 36 of Bayern Munich’s 37 games combined this season. Anatoliy Tymoshchuk is another option.

Arsenal will be without both Lukas Podolski and Jack Wilshere through ankle injuries. Podolski started the first leg and Wilshere is a key player in the centre of midfield. Two huge absentees when you consider Andrey Arshavin has been named in the 18-man squad for this game. The Russian not known for helping out in defence, starting him on the left side would be suicide against Thomas Müller and Philipp Lahm. Therefore, I don’t expect Arshavin to start.

First-choice goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny has strangely been omitted from the squad, citing he’s being ‘rested’. The two goalkeepers the manager has taken with him are Vito Mannone and Lukasz Fabianski. The latter has not played a competitive game since 18 February 2012 – a 2-0 FA Cup loss at Sunderland more than a year ago. Mannone played in 4 of Arsenal’s group games when Szczesny was injured earlier this season.

Arsene Wenger seems more confident heading into this leg than the first, with quotes of “I am convinced that if this team can find a big game, with a big win, you will see a completely different animal.” and “I am confident we will be completely focused and up for it, and give it our best shot. Football is football – everything is possible.”

Heading into the first leg it felt like the pressure was getting to him in this memorable press conference:

Do I think Arsenal have a chance? No.