Arsenal can be encouraged by home record against Guardiola
Bayern Munich manager usually finds a way to put away Wenger sides
Bayern Munich head coach Pep Guardiola (centre) conducts a training session at the club’s training grounds at Saebener Strasse in Munich yesterday. Photograph: Sven Hoppe/EPA
For 20 minutes in 2010 Arsenal must have felt as if the pitch at the Emirates Stadium had been tipped towards their goal. The ball just kept coming back and on the rare occasions when they got it, they were staring up a mountain.
Barcelona were having fun at their expense, Pep Guardiola’s side so dominant the home fans could only watch in stunned silence.
Few Champions League quarter-finals have been so one-sided. Manuel Almunia’s defiance kept Barcelona at bay for a while but they led 2-0 by the hour thanks to two Zlatan Ibrahimovic goals. The final score? Two-all.
Arsenal went one better when Barcelona and Guardiola returned a year later in the last 16. Again Barcelona were unable to make their superiority count, taking the lead through David Villa but losing 2-1 after conceding two late goals.
Barcelona were cruising until Guardiola replaced Villa with Seydou Keita in the second half, a substitution for the sake of making one, and handed the initiative back to Arsenal.
The relevance of those encounters might seem questionable now, especially as Barcelona won both ties after the second leg at Camp Nou. But tonight Guardiola is back at the Emirates, with Bayern Munich.
The German club are expected to win handsomeland it is hard to see Arsenal standing in their way – but at least they can be encouraged by their home record against Guardiola.
“I have never won here,” the Spaniard said. “I learned you can never dominate Arsenal for 90 minutes. You can dominate for 30 minutes, to half-time, for 75 minutes, but for 90 minutes it is impossible. Arsenal, with these quality players, you always have a problem.”
Bayern are not immune to complacency. Their sheer remorselessness over the past two seasons, first under Jupp Heynckes and then Guardiola, makes them a formidable proposition and, if everything plays out as expected, they will dispense with Arsenal comfortably. Yet Arsenal will remember the scare they gave Bayern at this stage last year.
The tie looked over after Bayern won the first leg 3-1 at the Emirates but the German club went through only on away goals after losing 2-0 at the Allianz Arena.
So Arsenal, who have made vast strides in the past year, are not entirely without hope and Guardiola does not share Jose Mourinho’s view of Wenger as a “specialist in failure”.
“Life is not only trophies,” Guardiola said. “Arsenal compete with huge teams. I have a lot of respect for Arsene. He always likes good players, always plays in a good style.
Treble last year
But Bayern won a treble last year, have power and skill in equal measure, possess unrivalled strength in depth and are 16 points clear at the top of the Bundesliga. They have lost twice
Regular watchers say that Bayern have become even better since Guardiola replaced Heynckes last summer, improving on perfection by hiring a perfectionist.
Battling with Mourinho at Real Madrid took its toll, though, and Guardiola looked exhausted when he left Spain two years ago. But a year in New York recharged the now 43-year-old’s batteries and Bayern became the envy of the rest of Europe when he chose to manage them.
Bayern are far more physical than Barcelona and have been direct at times under Guardiola, who said he came to Germany to prove he could succeed in another league.
His squad provides him with so many options that there is always a solution.
Weaknesses, like a needle in a haystack, are there to be found – but what if the needle keeps moving?
Arsenal will have to squint hard – and then, if Bayern’s boot is hovering above their throat, close their eyes and pray that they miss.