Gunners should not fear mission to Munich
Bayern are not at their best
Champions League last-16 first leg
BT Sport 2, 7.45pm Wednesday
Arsene Wenger got the group-stage top spot that Arsenal fans had been demanding for years, but the Frenchman must have been wondering why he bothered when his team were pulled out of the hat alongside German juggernaut Bayern Munich in round two.
Bookmakers immediately wrote off the Premier League side’s chances, going 1-2 that Bayern win the home leg and 2-5 that the Bundesliga pacesetters go through.
Yet there are grounds for betting that Arsenal can go some way to avoiding a seventh straight round-of-16 exit by avoiding defeat in the Allianz Arena.
Bayern, semi-finalists in each of the past three seasons and second-favourites going into the knockout phase, are clearly doing little wrong domestically having won ten and drawn the other one of their last 11 matches.
But within that set of figures, indeed all season long, there have been some fairly insipid efforts as the Bavarian superpowers adjust to life under Carlo Ancelotti.
Tame performances over the last couple of months against Darmstadt, Freiburg, Schalke and Ingolstadt have left supporters underwhelmed. With Philipp Lahm announcing his retirement and Xabi Alonso and Arjen Robben coming to the end of their careers, there is change in the air in Munich.
Arsenal can tap into any uncertainty by producing the type of European performance they know they have in their locker, and one that’s often produced when least expected.
And clearly, judging by the prices, not many layers, pundits and punters are expecting much from them.
Limping past Hull in the wake of back-to-back defeats by Watford and Chelsea is hardly the form of a potential Champions League winner, but Arsenal are so wonderfully contrary that they could definitely be a bit of value. Certainly the Gunners-draw double chance looks a fair shout.
Arsenal’s three previous visits to Munich over the course of the last four seasons have yielded a heavy defeat, a draw and the unlikeliest of 2-0 wins. They’d been written off for that fixture after losing 3-1 at home to a far better Bayern, but were superb in the return leg.
The only points Arsenal have dropped in Europe this season came in home and away draws with Paris Saint Germain, and clearly there was no disgrace in either of those results. Bayern lost a couple of group tussles, explaining why they only finished as runners-up behind Atletico Madrid.
Arsenal’s cause will be helped by having either Mohamed Elneny or Granit Xhaka to help stiffen up midfield – neither was available for the defeats by Watford and Chelsea, Arsenal’s only losses in their last ten. The absence of Jerome Boateng from the Bayern defence is another bonus.
There’s always a sense, given the abundance of attacking options available to each manager, that there will be goals. Yet only four of their ten meetings since the millennium have produced over two goals. It’s 4-5 that both team score while it’s 8-13 that there are over 2.5.
Arsenal-draw double chance
1pt 13-8 general
Jerome Boateng and Franck Ribery are out. Xabi Alonso injured his knee on Monday but has returned to training.
Granit Xhaka, banned domestically, is available. Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey are still injured.
Bayern have won 14 and drawn one of their last 15 home Champions League ties.