On Wednesday night Bayern Munich, clear favourites for the Bundesliga title, will take on a stuttering Arsenal in the knockout stages of the Champions League (stop me if you’ve heard this one before.) In recent years, the gulf in quality between the two sides has been fairly clear. A routine first-leg win for Bayern is usually followed by a spirited-but-ultimately-doomed attempt from the Gunners to overturn the two or three goal deficit. Can we expect the same this year?
The short answer is probably yes. There’s no doubt it’s a little different this season, with both teams exhibiting clear insecurities throughout this season, but the safe money would be on another glorious Arsenal failure.
There’s no two ways about it – an Arsenal win at the Allianz would be truly remarkable. Bayern have won each of their last 15 Champions League home games, a run which includes victories against Juventus, Atlético Madrid and of course the 5-1 demolition of the Gunners in last season’s competition. As if their European home form isn’t formidable enough, the Bavarians have not lost in Munich since March 2016. Their Champions League form, however, was not good enough to see them qualify as group leaders and a shock 3-2 loss to FC Rostov in the group stage could plant the seeds of doubt into the minds of Carlo Ancelotti’s men.
Arsenal, however, have no such form. A shaky 2-0 win over Hull City at the weekend came after a harrowing week in which the Gunners bowed out of the title race, losing 2-1 at home to Watford before a 3-1 defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Their European form, however, is the best it has been for years. Winning the group for the first time since 2011 and coming through unbeaten and free-scoring, it has been a stirring performance from the Gunners in this season’s competition.
Jérôme Boateng and Franck Ribéry will miss out through injury, while Xabi Alonso reportedly limped out of training yesterday. The Spaniard did, however, take part in today’s session, but still may be benched as a precautionary measure. Should Alonso not make it into the starting XI, Joshua Kimmich can expect to start.
Arsenal are still without Santi Cazorla but Granit Xhaka will return in some capacity after serving his domestic 4-match ban. Mohamed Elneny is also back in contention after making his return from the Africa Cup of Nations, so Arsenal are now back to something of a full compliment in the centre of midfield. There are decisions to make up front, with Alex Iwobi and Theo Walcott having both proven ineffectual in recent weeks; Danny Welbeck and Lucas Perez could come in, while Olivier Giroud has a track record of goals against Bayern Munich.
Bayern Munich (4-3-3): Manuel Neuer; Philipp Lahm, Javi Martínez, Mats Hummels, David Alaba; Thiago Alcântara, Xabi Alonso, Arturo Vidal; Arjen Robben, Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Müller
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): David Ospina; Héctor Bellerín, Shkodran Mustafi, Laurent Koscielny, Kieran Gibbs; Mohamed Elneny, Francis Coquelin; Theo Walcott, Mesut Özil, Lucas Pérez; Alexis Sánchez
Bayern started this season in lacklustre fashion, falling behind to newly promoted RB Leipzig at the top of the table. They did not do themselves justice in Europe as they finished second in their group. Make no mistake: Bayern are fallible. It’s just that Arsenal are much more so. Arsenal have dug out some reasonable results away to big sides this season, namely 1-1 draws against Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain, but this is a different kettle of fish entirely. I think Bayern will win 3-1, with an away goal to give the Gunners some customary hope going into the second leg in March.