Pivotal moment as familiar foe awaits

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger will be hoping for off-form German playmaker Mesut Ozil to sparkle against Bayern Munich in the first leg of their last-16 tie, which will be played at the home of the German champions.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger will be hoping for off-form German playmaker Mesut Ozil to sparkle against Bayern Munich in the first leg of their last-16 tie, which will be played at the home of the German champions.PHOTO: REUTERS

Another Champions League exit at the hands of Bayern will heap pressure on Gunners boss

MUNICH • Arsenal may be under pressure to end their Champions League last-16 misery but Arsene Wenger said that the team remain optimistic as they travel to bogey team Bayern Munich for the first leg today.

The Gunners have suffered last-16 defeats in each of their last six seasons, losing to Bayern in both 2013 and 2014.

Another exit at this stage would further ramp up the pressure on 67-year-old Arsenal manager Wenger to quit after 20 years in charge.

"We have had bad experiences against them (Bayern)," said the Frenchman of their past eliminations, including one back in 2005.

"But I feel that this is a good opportunity. We have won there before and we play the first game away from home, so it is important we protect the second game because I feel that to have a chance to qualify in the second leg, that will be very important."

Arsenal beat Bayern 2-0 in Munich in 2013, but still lost the tie following a 3-1 home defeat in the first leg.

Wenger will be buoyed by the prospect of beating the Germans on their home ground again. However, Bayern are riding a record 15-match home-winning streak in Europe.

The midweek clash marks the 11th meeting between the sides at Munich's Allianz Arena in the Champions League.

The teams know each other well, having met six times in the last four years, and Bayern thrashed the Gunners 5-1 in Munich in their previous meeting in the group stage in November 2015.

Arsenal warmed up for their trip with a 2-0 win over Hull as Alexis Sanchez scored a brace following back-to-back league defeats by Watford and Chelsea.

The return leg in London takes place on March 7.

"If we put in our best performance, then we can beat Bayern as well," Arsenal's German defender Shkodran Mustafi told Sky Sports.

"It's down to us and it's in our hands."

Germany playmaker Mesut Ozil is enduring a dip in form though, and has not scored since early December.

Arsenal are third in the Premier League, 10 points behind leaders Chelsea, while Bayern are seven clear in Germany's top flight.

Bayern have reached the semi-finals of the Champions League for the past three years, but are itching to go one better and reach the Cardiff final on June 3.

Despite their lead in the Bundesliga, Bayern have turned in below-par performances in recent weeks and needed two stoppage-time goals to earn a 2-0 win at Ingolstadt on Saturday.

Xabi Alonso suffered an injury scare in training on Monday, while Bayern will be missing defender Jerome Boateng and winger Franck Ribery, who are recovering from shoulder and thigh injuries respectively.

Germany forward Thomas Muller is also enduring a goal drought, with just one goal in 17 league games this term.

But Robert Lewandowski has scored 23 goals in all competitions and is relishing the Arsenal showdown.

"Everyone is waiting for this game and it'll be a big challenge for us," said the Poland striker.

"Arsenal have very good players, but we need to concentrate on ourselves and if we play our best football, Arsenal probably won't have many chances.

"We need to score at least once and concede nothing, then it'll be a good evening for us."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 15, 2017, with the headline 'Pivotal moment as familiar foe awaits'. Print Edition | Subscribe