It’s almost that time again. The UEFA Champions League will hit this week with force not unlike an anvil, with Arsenal thrown into the deep end against current European champions and omnipotent German overlords Bayern Munich.
Managed by none other than Pep Guardiola, Bayern represent the Gunners’ most significant test of the season, and Arsene Wenger will be praying his side are up to the task.
In a stat that makes a mockery of competitive modern day football, Bayern have won 19 of their 21 Bundesliga matches so far, and currently sit 16 points clear of Bayer Leverkusen in second.
More horrifyingly, since losing the second leg of their last-16 match against Arsenal in March last year, they have lost only twice in 51 games.
Bayern go into the fixture without Ballon d’Or runner up Franck Ribery, or his ‘understudy’ Xherdan Shaqiri. Thomas Muller is expected to take up a wide role to compensate, with Bayern’s strength in depth to be shown off.
Previous Clashes in North London:
2012/13: Arsenal 1-3 Bayern Munich – Match Highlights
2004/05: Arsenal 1-0 Bayern Munich – Match Report
2000/01: Arsenal 2-2 Bayern Munich – Match Highlights
FA Cup: Arsenal 2-1 Liverpool
Premier League: Arsenal 0-0 Manchester United
Premier League: Liverpool 5-1 Arsenal
Premier League: Arsenal 2-0 Crystal Palace
Premier League: Southampton 2-2 Arsenal
Bundesliga: Bayern Munich 4-0 SC Freiburg
DFB Cup: Hamburg 0-5 Bayern Munich
Bundesliga: Nürnberg 0-2 Bayern Munich
Bundesliga: Bayern Munich 5-0 Eintracht
Bundesliga: Stuttgart 1-2 Bayern Munich
Arsene Wenger feels that his side are better equipped mentally to take on the Bavarian giants,
“I think we know them better than we did last year,” Wenger said (via the Telegraph),
“We will be in a better condition, hopefully, because 12 months ago we played them after the disappointment of losing to Blackburn,”
“We were in a much more difficult position in the league as well, so this season we are better prepared to go into a game of that stature.”
Pep Guardiola has a high opinion of both Arsenal and Wenger, and expects a tough couple of games against the Frenchman,
“My opinion on Arsene is that I have a lot of respect,” Guardiola told reporters (via Goal.com),
“His teams have his quality and I have to admire the quality of my opponents.
“We are going to play one team that has all the season been up (leading the league), so now they are third or second in the league, but in the beginning (they were) there.
“It is a typical team that always puts in a good performance in the Champions League.”
Three Key Battles
Mesut Ozil vs Philipp Lahm
Mesut Ozil has come in for some criticism in recent weeks, with Arsenal fans bemoaning a distinct drop in end product from the club’s record signing.
In Philipp Lahm, he will be up against arguably his most tricky opponent, with the Bayern captain excelling this season in the defensive midfield role.
Lahm is at the centre of all things Bayern at present, and has successfully made the shift into midfield under the tutelage of Guardiola.
The former Barca manager recently hailed Lahm as the most intelligent player he had ever worked with, and having coached the likes of Xavi and Messi during his time, it is certainly high praise.
If Ozil is to get the better of his international teammate, then he will have to rely on his fellow Arsenal midfielders to drag Lahm away from centre, so as to open up pockets of space behind Giroud. A tough ask, and Ozil himself will have to be at his most clinical to make the most of sporadic chances.
Olivier Giroud vs Dante
Olivier Giroud has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons of late, but if his Gunners side are to take the limelight, the Frenchman will have to be at his imperious best up top against Brazilian hard-man Dante.
Giroud played well in the repeat set of fixtures last season, but with Bayern having so far only conceded 14 goals in the Bundesliga and Champions League combined, the former Marseilles striker will rely heavily on the likes of Cazorla and Ozil to pick a pass.
Per Mertesacker vs Mario Mandžukić
Croatian striker Mandzukic has a superb footballing brain, good positioning, and a quickness of mind to take advantage of half-chances in the box, as his hat-trick against Hamburg last week showed.
The intricacies of Bayern’s play will suit Madzukic against the Gunners, and Mertesacker will have to muster up extra mobility from somewhere so as to keep up with the crafty Croat.
Arsenal should win tomorrow, I mean I just beat Bayern on fifa 19-0 don’t know what all the hype is about they are not very good on semi pro
— Jack Tilley (@Tilley_Gooner13) February 18, 2014
— Riky Syifarandani (@RikySyifaR) February 18, 2014
Bold prediction: Arsenal will not score a single goal vs Bayern Munich. Predicting 2-0 at Emirates and 3-0 at Allianz.
— Andrew Terford (@at_sunshine) February 17, 2014
2-0 for Arsenal. RT @FFArsenal: Who is excited for Arsenal vs Bayern Munich? What are your score predictions?
— Arif Akbar R (@arie21fly) February 18, 2014
@piersmorgan I predict: Arsenal 1 – 4 Bayern Munich Giroud will score! But 2 hours before the game!
— S (@UrmstonLordMUFC) February 17, 2014
The Big Match Poll
Tom – 1-3
Unfortunately for Gunners fans, I think Bayern will be too strong.
English clubs have had a fair record against Bayern these last few years, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Arsenal score, but the sheer belief of this Bayern side should see them come at Arsenal like a battering ram.
Fingers crossed for an exciting game!
What do you think? Get voting and let me know your thoughts in the comments below…