Arsenal face the daunting prospect of facing Bayern Munich, who have been almost unbeatable this season, in the last 16 of the Champions League.
The North London club have never won the European tournament before and have only made the final on one occasion—something they'll be looking to rectify here. Bayern, on the other hand, have been to the final a staggering nine times in their history, and have won four of those nine finals. That's good for third on the all-time Champions League winners list, but it's also good for first on the all-time Champions League final losers list as well, which they'll be looking to avoid no doubt this season in the competition. Arsenal, meanwhile, are about as far from their peak as they have been since Arsene Wenger took charge in 1996.
They lie fifth in the Premier League, 21 points behind leaders Manchester United, and have suffered embarrassing Cup exits to lower-league opposition, most recently in the FA Cup at the hands of Blackburn Rovers. The North London club currently sit four points outside of the Champions League spots in fifth position but haven't beaten a team inside the top three all season. That inability to make the step to the elite group of teams has brought great pressure on the club, who come into this match under a mountain of expectation and need for a more resilient showing. The club has been eliminated from both the FA Cup and Capital One Cup to relatively lowly teams, and the Champions League now stands as, really, their only remaining chance at a title in 2013. So, considering the amount of pressure Arsenal are in at the moment they don’t stand a chance. But if they get things right tactically, Bayern are very much beatable – as Chelsea found out in last season’s final.
Arsenal were dealt a crippling blow a few weeks back with the news that England international and starting left-back Kieran Gibbs would miss this clash, and several more, due to injury. That meant the Gunners were down to less-than-inspiring defender Andre Santos as their only other regulation left-back for this must-win Champions League clash. As a result, the club did sign Nacho Monreal from Malaga over the winter transfer window to cover Gibbs in the Premier League. However, Monreal is cup-tied with the Spanish club already this season, meaning that he cannot play against Bayern Munich. Jack Wilshire’s fitness was a major concern after the youngster hobbled off against Sunderland. But after his cameo on Saturday, he should be one of the first names on the Arsenal team sheet. The Arsenal attack is good enough to unlock defence and with Giroud dropping deep and dragging players out, the movement of Jack, Santi, Podolski and Theo could become extremely tricky for the water tight Bayern defence.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-2-3-1): Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen; Arteta, Wilshere; Podolski, Walcott, Cazorla; Giroud
Bayern will be without summer signing Claudio Pizarro and long term absentee Holger Badstuber. Jerome Boateng will serve his suspension against Arsenal meaning Jupp Heynckes will field Lahm, van Buyten, Dante and Alaba at the back. Martinez is back to full fitness and the Spaniard along with Schwiensteiger will look to protect the defence against a potent Arsenal side. Kroos will likely start as the attacking midfielder with Mandzukic upfront who will be supported on the wings by Ribery and Muller. Mandzukic’s hot streak continues and in case the Germans can’t break down Arsenal’s defence they always have some very capable substitutes in Robben, Shaqiri and Gomez who are all potential match winners.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-2-3-1): Neuer; Lahm, van Buyten, Dante, Alaba; Schweinsteiger, Martinez; Kroos, Ribery, Muller; MandzukicKey Battles
Bastian Schweinsteiger v Jack Wilshere:
Both players are the heartbeat of their teams, the ones that make their sides tick. Schweinsteiger is much more experienced and has seen everything before, so he will definitely not be too daunted about the game at the Emirates. The player that controls the game will have a big say on the outcome of the tie.
Thomas Mueller / Arjen Robben v Thomas Vermaelen
Mueller has regained the form that saw him a stand-out player for Germany at the 2010 World Cup. He has also taken Robben’s place in the team, much to the famously prickly Dutchman’s chagrin. Mueller’s best work comes without the ball, his movement, intelligence, willing and precision all very German attributes. Robben, meanwhile, has been limited to a role from the bench since his latest injury gave Mueller a chance, and he could well be used as an impact substitute; as he was on Friday when he scored a late goal in the 2-0 win at Wolfsburg. He is almost the opposite of Mueller, as mercurial as the German is consistent, as keen to run with the ball as his rival is without it, as selfish as he is selfless. What is undoubted is that he is a fantastic footballer, and one who could cause Vermaelen problems.
Three stats to consider
Two - Arsenal have only lost two of their 17 home games when it comes to the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League, with both coming against English opposition. They lost to Chelsea in 2004 and Manchester United in 2009.
Four - Bayern Munich have lost their last four Champions League matches in England, and haven't won there since they beat Manchester United in 2001.
Nine - Bayern Munich had nine different goalscorers in the Champions League group stage, more than any other team in the tournament. By comparison, Arsenal scored just 10 goals in total from their six group stage matches, and recorded just 47 shots in total as well. That is the least of all the teams.
All statistics courtesy of Eurosport.