What: Champions League Round of 16 – First-leg
Who: Arsenal vs Bayern Munich
When: Wednesday 19th February, 2014, at 19:45 UK Time
Where: Emirates Stadium, London, England
Gunners Receive Momentum Boost
Arsenal will hope to keep the good times rolling when they welcome Bayern Munich to town in the first leg of their Round of 16 Champions League encounter. Mercilessly thrashed 5-1 by Liverpool ten days ago and then participants in a dour 0-0 home draw against Manchester United, the critics were sharpening their knives once again.
Arsene Wenger’s side summoned up a solid performance in response this past Sunday, beating Liverpool 2-1 to advance to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup. It was the result that the club needed desperately in order to give themselves momentum going into this vital first-leg match against Bayern Munich.
The impact of the Liverpool win was not lost on Arsenal midfielder Mathieu Flamini. “Of course it give us momentum, because it is an important week”, the Frenchman said. “It was important to qualify here as we wanted to be on a good run against Bayern on Wednesday. We’ll do everything, we’ll try to play our best football and get a good result.”
Arsenal will probably have to play at their best in order to get a result at the Emirates Stadium, but though they have had their struggles as of late, the Londoners are still well-placed to challenge for trophies in all three competitions they remain in. Whether that will still be the case after 90 minutes of this 180-minute contest depends very much on Wenger’s instructions being carried out to the letter.
While questions have been asked of Arsenal in recent weeks, the only thing being asked of Bayern Munich is whether they can be beaten. Pep Guardiola has his side firing on all cylinders and the German giants have now gone an unbelievable 46 games unbeaten on the domestic front.
The only blemish on their Champions League record was a surprise defeat to Manchester City at home in their group stage finale. At the weekend, Bayern Munich man-handled Freiburg en route to a 4-0 victory. It was a comfortable win that came about without many first team regulars as Guardiola rested some starters in preparation for the trip to London to take on Arsenal.
Club captain Philipp Lahm has sounded the warning bells however ahead of the first-leg by insisting that Arsenal are not to be overlooked. “I follow Arsenal a bit more this year and they’ve left a good impression”, he said. “They’re fighting for the championship. That’s not a coincidence. I believe they have developed as a team.”
Lahm’s comments surely will carry weight. The belief is though that the only team that can beat Bayern Munich at the moment are themselves. Over-confidence may be the only threat to derail this side from becoming the first team to win back-to-back Champions League titles.
Liverpool 5-1 Arsenal (08/02; Premier League)
Arsenal 0-0 Manchester United (12/02; Premier League)
Arsenal 2-1 Liverpool (16/02; FA Cup)
Nurnberg 0-2 Bayern Munich (08/02; Bundesliga)
Hamburg 0-5 Bayern Munich (12/02; German Cup)
Bayern Munich 4-0 Freiburg (15/02; Bundesliga)
Arsenal: Aaron Ramsey; Theo Walcott; Abou Diaby; Mikel Arteta (suspended)
Bayern Munich: Xherdan Shaqiri; Franck Ribery
Players to watch
Arsenal – Per Mertesacker: The lanky centre-back will take on his countrymen this evening. Though he endured a rough spell to open up his career in England, Mertesacker has become the undisputed leader at the back for Arsenal. Alongside Laurent Koscielny, he has helped put together one of the best defensive units in English football. Now he will have to conjure up an impressive performance against the free-scoring Germans.
Bayern Munich – Arjen Robben: The likes of Ribery and the in-form Shaqiri may be missing, but Bayern Munich have no shortage of able wide players. In Robben they have one of their top performers of the last few seasons. A man for the big occasion, Robben shrugged off Champions League disappointment in 2012 to lead Bayern Munich to European glory last season with a later winner against Borussia Dortmund in the final. If Bayern Munich are to win back-to-back titles on the continent then the flying Dutchman will surely have his say.
Who can bet against Bayern Munich at this point? The Bavarians may have switched managers this season, but in Guardiola they have a master who has if anything improved this side. Goals galore and quality that oozes in every part of the pitch, simply put this team are huge favourites to win the Champions League again. Standing in their way in the Round of 16 are Arsenal. The Gunners may have had some shaky form recently, however for the bulk of the season Wenger’s team have been solid and are winning matches sometimes with skill and finesse and other times with grit and determination. Bayern Munich came to the Emirates Stadium last season and produced a fantastic performance in a 3-1 win, but Arsenal nearly came back in the second-leg, only losing out on away goals. Arsenal are seemingly made of sterner stuff this season, but Bayern Munich have also improved and though it will be close they should pick up an advantage heading into the second-leg. Arsenal 1-2 Bayern Munich.
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