Bayern Munich likely to dazzle Arsenal
German side have won 22 of their 24 games and drawn the other two in the Bundesliga
For Arsene Wenger, the lesson of history is unkind. There have been only two occasions in the 21 years of the Champions League when a team have made it into the next round after losing the home leg first.
Ajax managed it against Panathinaikos in 1996 and Internazionale did it against Bayern Munich in 2011.
No team, however, has ever managed it from a two-goal deficit – never mind trying to do so against the five-time champions, currently steamrollering everyone in sight.
Where to start with Arsenal’s opponents? The Bundesliga, perhaps, where they have won 22 of their 24 games, drawn the other two and could conceivably wrap up another title by the end of March.
Bayern have scored 24 times in their last five matches in Germany. They are 20 points clear, with a goal difference of +61, and it is almost 18 months since they lost a domestic game at the Allianz Arena.
Pep Guardiola’s side are unbeaten in 49 Bundesliga fixtures, on a 16-game winning streak, and Manuel Neuer has conceded only three goals in 2014.
For Arsenal to to have any chance of succeeding they need two things. First, one of the more coherent performances any Wenger side has put together in the modern era.
In that case, Wenger said, “it is possible, that is the most important thing. I believe that my team has quality and ambition. We can do it.”
Yet the second point is that, even playing at the point of maximum expression, Arsenal will need Bayern to lapse into the carelessness evident when Wenger’s team won 2-0 in Munich last season.
Bayern, with a 3-1 lead from the first leg, were guilty of some rare complacency that night and it was the same again when they let a two-goal lead slip against Manchester City in the group stages this season, losing 3-2.
“We got a bit complacent because we had grown so used to winning,” Thomas Muller said. “That was a warning to us.”
The problem for Arsenal is a team of Bayern’s knowhow and experience are unlikely to make the same mistake again.
Guardiola issued exactly the same warning and, though Wenger sounded like he meant absolutely everything he said, it was not altogether convincing that he had to go back over 10 years to argue his point.
“The statistics are against us but we won 5-1 against Inter at San Siro [in November 2003],” Wenger said. “I would also say we have won everywhere in Europe. We scored two goals in the last five minutes against Everton [on Saturday]so we don’t have to be nervous. We can be patient. We just have to focus on the quality of our game.”
Wenger has to make his players believe this is not Mission Impossible but Inter finished fourth in Serie A that season, 23 points off the top, and did not make it out of the group stages of the Champions League. That was the year of Arsenal’s Invincibles, with a front three in San Siro of Thierry Henry, Robert Pires and Kanu.
What would change the complexion of the night is if Arsenal can score first.
“It’s vital,” Mikel Arteta, sitting next to Wenger, said. “Then the game changes ...psychologically, the game starts and that’s where we can have an advantage.”
All the same, there was an element of straws-clutching among Wenger’s pronouncements. Bayern scored seven over their two legs against Barcelona last season. Kieran Gibbs is injured, meaning Thomas Vermaelen will have the unenviable task of trying to subdue Arjen Robben, and Arsenal will also have to get by without Wojciech Szczesny, sent off in the first leg in the incident that prompted Wenger to renew his complaints about the refereeing decisions his team have encountered in Europe.
It felt like a premeditated speech – a weak one, too – including concerns about the appointment of a referee from Norway because “the closer they are to a tough league, the more chances they have to detect the tricks that can decide a game”.
Wenger has a thick portfolio of grievances about perceived injustices, headed by the red card for Jens Lehmann in the 2006 final. He mentioned Robin van Persie’s sending-off at this stage in 2011, against Barcelona, and the Arsenal manager appeared to start describing this pattern as “suspicious” before changing it to “special”.
It came out on tape as “sus-pecial” and there was no argument from Wenger when a journalist referred to him saying suspicious. Arsenal’s press office emphasised afterwards the word was “special”.
What can be said with certainty is something extraordinary needs to happen if Bayern’s defence of the trophy is to unravel from this position.
“Two-nil is a good score but a dangerous score,” Guardiola said. “The quality is there [at Arsenal]. When I analyse the first game, we saw the quality of [Santi]Cazorla, we saw what happened until [Mesut]Ozil missed the penalty.
“We know now they can create two or three really great chances in two or three minutes. That nine minutes ... they were the nine minutes in this season when the opponent was better than us.
“People think ‘2-0, you don’t have a chance in Munich’ but that’s the main problem for us. We have to attack, give our best, be aggressive without the ball. I do not want to see Ozil controlling the game.”
For Ozil, and Wenger, it is going to need one of the great Arsenal nights.