Arséne Wenger says Arsenal are up for ‘massive Munich challenge’

Gunners manager deflects talk about his future

Arsene Wenger: “Let’s focus on what we want to do and not too much on what people say and think. It is really down to our performance.” Photograph: Lennart Preiss/EPA

Arsene Wenger: “Let’s focus on what we want to do and not too much on what people say and think. It is really down to our performance.” Photograph: Lennart Preiss/EPA

 

Arsenal were a little late getting to Bayern Munich’s Allianz Arena on the eve of their last 16 first-leg tie. Perhaps with this in mind Arséne Wenger was particularly brusque with the suggestion that his team’s ability to break a six-season run of instant elimination from the Champions League knockout stages might be a decisive factor in his own continued tenure as Arsenal coach.

Wenger’s future may be “not a subject for now” but he was adamant Arsenal can beat a powerful Bayern team who, for all their reported stumbles, have still won 10 of their past 11 games and sit seven points clear at the top of the Bundesliga.

“We play against a Bayern side who for every year the same task is to win the Champions League,” Wenger said.

“When you look at their record, they are always basically in the last four, so it is a massive challenge but we are capable of dealing with it. We have an advantage to play the second game at home. But we know as well every minute of tomorrow’s game will have a big influence on our chances at home to knock them out.”

Wenger also played down suggestions that Mesut Ozil might not be selected for Arsenal’s biggest game of the season to date – “Ozil is highly focused to have a good performance tomorrow” – but revealed he would be sticking with David Ospina ahead of Petr Cech in this competition, praising the Chilean’s “great performances” in goal.

Wenger enters this tie with the familiar chorus of trapped rage at his own consistent, but consistently moderate, standards of elite-level success.

But there was support in Munich from Carlo Ancelotti, who praised the Arsenal manager’s sang froid under pressure.

“Wenger has the experience to know that in our job it’s normal to be criticised, so I think that for this reason he has no problem,” the Bayern manager said.

Strong identity

At Bayern, Ancelotti faces the same oddly elusive challenge as Pep Guardiola before him, with the Champions League the only real measure of outstanding success at a club who have gorged on domestic titles in recent years.

Asked what it took to win this competition, Ancelotti gave a thoughtful response. “To win the Champions League you need to have courage, personality, experience, luck,” he said. “The courage is important.”

Manuel Neuer had suggested earlier that Arsenal were almost too brave on the ball – “a team who wants to play” – and that Bayern could “take advantage of these spaces”.

But Neuer was quick to row back on the suggestion that Arsenal might be a soft touch.

“What we hear from England is that the experts are saying Arsenal are a top contender, competitor for the Premier League title,” the Bayern goalkeeper said, before also dismissing, for now, suggestions of a prospective move to Manchester City.

“There was no contact and, as you know, I’m happy and satisfied here and my contract I’ve just extended actually. It honours me that there’s speculation and talk about it. Pep still has my phone number but he hasn’t called me.”

There was also support in Munich for Ozil, described as “a world-class player” by his World Cup team-mate Mats Hummels.

“Every offensive player has his good and bad moments,” Hummels said. “You can’t just project it on one player. You can’t say that any one offensive player always delivers in every big game.”

Hummels was also bullish about the likely reception for the visitors at a ground where Bayern like to start with an attacking swagger.

“We play at home so we want to put pressure on them from the very first minute. It’s something we want to do.”

Wenger’s own vision of his team playing “efficient defensive” football on Wednesday night and hurting Bayern on the break might not chime with all their recent performances at this level, but he stood by his team’s progress to this stage.

“We want to play attractive and efficient football and I don’t think that is a bad target personally,” the Frenchman said. “We have gone through the group stage and not lost a game yet.

“Let’s focus on what we want to do and not too much on what people say and think. It is really down to our performance.”

Guardian Service

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