By Rob Kelly in Munich
BACK IN BAVARIA
For all of football's unpredictability, some things never change. Great goals, terrible misses, refereeing controversies… and Bayern Munich v Arsenal in the Champions League.
This is their sixth meeting in the past four seasons, and if familiarity breeds contempt, there was precious little evidence of it in Tuesday’s pre-match press briefings.
The home side may be favourites to prevail in the first leg of this last-16 clash, but Carlo Ancelotti and Manuel Neuer were at pains to underline their respect for the Gunners.
“They have known each other for a long time, they’ve improved, made good transfers and these will be tough matches,” Neuer told the assembled media at Allianz Arena.
Arsenal: Lucas (leg), Cazorla (ankle), Ramsey (calf)
Bayern Munich: Ribery (thigh), Boateng (shoulder)
Ancelotti, who is the only manager to lift the Champions League trophy three times, concurred. “Arsenal are really dangerous on the counter-attack, they have fantastic, fast players we have to take into consideration,” he said. “It’s 180 minutes, not only 90. We have to play well for 180 minutes.”
There is certainly a buzz in the Bavarian capital about this match. Bayern have not been at their unrelenting best this season, but for all the grumblings about their performances they remain seven points clear at the top of the Bundesliga.
And with a star-studded squad containing the likes of Neuer, Philipp Lahm, David Alaba, Thomas Muller and Robert Lewandowski, you realise why Arsene Wenger, for all his air of quiet confidence, is wary of the hosts.
“We just have to focus on the performance,” he said. “We know we’re playing against Bayern who, after listening to you [the press] are the favourites, so that means we will have to be very positive and, on a fighting front and on a playing front, at the level required.
“Bayern will, as always, try to dominate the game and have lots of possession. We will play an offensive team with a high tempo and lots of experience. That’s why we’ll have to give a big performance.”
SAME TIE, DIFFERENT RESULT?
While there were rueful smiles from all sides after December’s last-16 draw in Monaco, there is one, potentially crucial, difference this time around.
Whereas in previous knockout games we have headed to Germany on the back of a demoralising defeat in the first leg in London, this time the slate is clear.
Having won our group for the first time since 2005/06 - when we reached the final - we will host Ancelotti’s side at Emirates Stadium in the second leg next month. It is a factor Wenger believes is in our favour heading into this tie and one which gives the Frenchman cause for optimism.
“We have the experience of playing against a Bayern side who, every year, have the same target - to win the Champions League,” he said. “When you look at their record, they are always in the last four.
“It’s a massive challenge but I think we are capable of dealing with it. We have an advantage of playing the second game at home, but we have to make the difference in every minute of [Wednesday’s] game so that we have the best chance of knocking them out at home.
“The advantage will be important to have in the second game at home, on the condition that we have a good performance and good luck here [in the first leg]. That’s why the only solution is to focus on that.
“Certainly Bayern will have a lot of the ball, but we have to play efficiently, defensively as well, and with a desire to hurt them every time we can.
“We have gone through the group stage, we have not lost a game yet so let’s just focus on what we did until now in the Champions League. We had very difficult teams in our group with Paris Saint-Germain. Let’s just focus again on what we want to do and not on what people say and think.
“It’s completely down to our performance.”
We've experienced our fair share of painful results against Bayern in the past, but it is nowhere near as clear-cut as some have made out.
Indeed, it was only last season that we beat the Germans in thrilling fashion at Emirates Stadium thanks to goals from Olivier Giroud and Mesut Ozil.
In 2013/14, a Lukas Podolski thunderbolt at the near post secured us a draw at Allianz Arena, while almost exactly 12 months prior we won 2-0 here in thrilling fashion - although we fell agonisingly short of progressing to the quarter-finals.
Laurent Koscielny scored the second of those goals, and he believes this current Arsenal side has the quality to go one step further than their earlier incarnations and secure their place in the next round.
“I think we are capable of winning here,” he said. “We did in the past and we did it last year during the group stage. We can do it here.
“We know that the first game here is really important because we have the second at home, but it will be very important at home if we have a good result on Wednesday.
“The first game is very important [to the whole tie]. We will try to have a good result here.”
FROM THE ARCHIVES
Can you remember who starred in last season's 2-0 win?
More quizzes to come later in the season!
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