The FourFourTwo Preview: Bayern Munich vs Arsenal
Humiliation, honourable defeat, heroic comeback: all options open to Arsenal.
It's just shy of three weeks since a first leg which started with such promise for Arsenal. Had Mesut Ozil converted that early penalty against schoolyard team-mate Manuel Neuer, things might have been different: a Per Mertesacker-marshalled defence might have held on for the traditional One-Nil To The Arsenal, a revivified Ozil would have led the Gunners to victory at Stoke and…
- Wolfsburg 1-6 Bayern (Lge)
- Bayern 5-1 Schalke (Lge)
- Hannover 0-4 Bayern (Lge)
- Arsenal 0-2 Bayern (Cup)
- Bayern 4-0 Freiburg (Lge)
- Arsenal 4-1 Everton (Cup)
- Stoke 1-0 Arsenal (Lge)
- Arsenal 4-1 S'land (Lge)
- Arsenal 0-2 Bayern (Cup)
- Arsenal 2-1 Liverpool (Cup)
It didn't happen. Having taken the lead, Bayern Munich not only passed Arsenal into submission with brutal tiki-taka karma (the home team managed 12% possession in the second half), but also employed a typical high press to panic their hosts into their poorest pass-completion rate of the season. Arsene Wenger may have some hope rather than belief but his side arguably faces two bigger games immediately after this. The trip to Spurs could virtually confirm their top-four finish or leave them worrying about an attack from the rear; the following Saturday's game at Chelsea could either end their title hopes or put them right back in contention.
That's not to say this clash with one of Europe's elite teams is insignificant. No matter what the domestic situation, such games allow manager and club to measure their continental standing, so Arsenal will want to make an impression – and getting in among Bayern early on again might help, especially if they can sneak the early goal Neuer denied them in N7. After all, Bayern have lost to their last three English visitors at the Allianz – Arsenal last season among them – and no club has the monopoly on fear.
Trouble is, Bayern appear to have none of it: since winning in London they have registered wins of 4-0, 5-1 and 6-1. At least they’ve started conceding goals in the last two games – they had only conceded one in their eight games since Christmas – and on Saturday they even went behind at Wolfsburg: it took 63 minutes for them to get in front.
That may have been the arrogance of which Bayern are so frequently accused; alternatively, it may have been them having their minds on the Arsenal game. Or it may have been a slight problem reassimilating back into the starting line-up some bloke called Franck Ribery.
He got a goal, becoming their seventh different scorer in those three games; leading that goal-charge with four each have been Emirates goal-grabber Thomas Muller and bustling forward Mario Mandzukic, who may be pleased to hear that doubts over Laurent Koscielny’s fitness may make Arsenal turn to Thomas Vermaelen, who has been out of the side or out of sorts for quite some time.
Questions over the defence; a supremely able array of home players; not least, a 2-0 deficit from the first leg. This could end rather nastily for Arsenal – but there’s still that tiny chink of hope… isn’t there?
Player to watch: Mesut Ozil (Arsenal)
Unlike some, Ozil doesn’t seem to seek the limelight, and this can seem like diffidence. There is also no doubt the German needed his recent rest, having felt the effects of a first English season and been one of Arsenal’s longest-distance runners when chasing Bayern shadows in the first leg. But against Everton on Saturday he looked rejuvenated and he will surely want to show his home nation he’s better than the dispirited London showing suggested. Having on several occasions demonstrated dazzling ability, £42 million signing Ozil owes Arsenal a sustained performance in a big game: now would be a good time.
Before the home leg, FFT reported that Pep Guardiola and Arsene Wenger have frequently complimented each other. Strange, then, that Wenger didn’t shake Guardiola’s hand after the first leg? The Frenchman denies there was anything in it - apparently it’s not the custom in Europe. So expect air-kisses on either cheek then [You sure? - Continental Etiquette Ed.]
Facts and figures
- Arsenal are the last team to keep a clean sheet against Bayern Munich in the Champions League, when the Gunners won 2-0 at the Allianz Arena on March 13 2013.
- Bayern have won 11 of their last 12 Champions League games (L1).
- Bayern have won their last 6 Champions League games in the knockout stages (15 goals for, 1 against).
- Bayern have had the most shots on target in the Champions League this season (59).
- Arsenal have won by at least 2 clear goals away from home in the knockout stages of the Champions League on only 2 occasions: vs Milan in March 2008 (2-0) and Bayern in March 2013 (2-0).
- Arsenal have only kept 3 clean sheets in their last 27 away games in the Champions League, but the last 2 shutouts have been in Germany (vs Bayern in March 2013 and Dortmund in November 2013).
More FFT Stats Zone facts
A glimmer, a glimpse, a defeat: 2-1 Bayern.
ATLETICO VS MILAN
- Milan have only won 1 of their last 14 Champions League games against Spanish teams (6 draws, 7 defeats), a 2-0 win against Barca in February 2013.
- Diego Costa has scored 5 goals in 4 Champions League games - the first player to score in each of his first 4 games in the competition since Alessandro Del Piero in 1995/96.
Meanwhile, on Screen Two...
A big Champions League night in Madrid… but not at the Bernabeu. Diego Simeone has transformed Atletico Madrid from Spain’s lovable losers into an extremely impressive football team: skilful, determined and, to the delight of nominative determinists, athletic. They sit second in La Liga – above Barcelona – and have won 15 of their last 16 home games in Europe, including all three group games in this, their debut Champions League campaign.
Their visitors are Milan, with just the seven European Cups, but now looking a shadow of those sides. Despite the irrepressible Mario Balotelli returning from a shoulder injury in Saturday’s defeat at Udinese, they’re down in 10th place domestically. Having lost the first leg in Milan 1-0 to Diego Costa’s late header, the Rossoneri face the indignity of dropping out of Europe’s premier competition – while Atleti’s future looks brighter than ever.