Arsenal vs. Bayern Munich: Top Storylines and Players to Watch

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Arsenal vs. Bayern Munich: Top Storylines and Players to Watch
Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

Bayern Munich enjoy coming to London. 

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The Bavarian giants swept aside Arsenal 3-1 in the first leg of their Champions League second round match last year. And they returned there four months later to see off German rivals Borussia Dortmund in the final at Wembley

Munich's visit to the Emirates on Wednesday, March 19 should hold no fear, then. They are, after all, undefeated in 21 Bundesliga games and 16 points ahead of their nearest league rivals Bayer Leverkusen

But defeating the Gunners will not be as straightforward as the statistics would suggest. Let us not forget that Bayern have faced difficulties against Arsenal before. 

Yes, they won 3-1 in the away leg in London, but they were also stunned by a 2-0 defeat at the Allianz Arena, from which they barely escaped into the quarterfinals. 

Neither are Arsenal unfamiliar with the German style of play. 

Mesut Ozil, Per Mertesacker and Lukas Podolski are likely to line up for the Gunners, and they will bring invaluable inside knowledge of the German outfit. 

On a simplistic level, if we are to analyse how the teams have improved since they last met, it is Arsenal who have the edge. Mesut Ozil is among an the world's dozen elite players. 

Mario Gotze was added to Munich's side, and a fine player he is. But he is not Ozil

Let's take a look at the three players who will decide how this finely poised tie pans out. 

Per Mertesacker, Arsenal

Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press

Arsenal giant centre-half made a circumspect start to his time in north London, but he has established himself as the foundation on which the Gunners' season has been built.

Never blessed with pace, Mertesacker is a fine reader of the game and provides a calming influence on his back line. Rarely beaten in the air, he will also bring an invaluable knowledge of Bayern and their players. Playing with many of Munich's dressing room for Germany, they should hold no fear for Mertesacker.

Bayern's rampaging central midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger certainly believes that Mertesacker has been influential at the Emirates, as reported by The Mirror's Jim Hughes:

For many seasons Arsenal have been admired across Europe for their attacking play – but perhaps where they sometimes let themselves down was in defence.

Per has made them one of the most defensively solid teams in England – and they look to have addressed their problems.

It was always going to take Per time to adjust to a new league – but now we see him for what he is which is one of the best central defenders in Europe with fantastic positional awareness and real leadership qualities.

 

Mario Mandzukic, Bayern Munich

Osama Faisal/Associated Press

If Bayern are to beat the Gunners, it is likely that the goals will come through Mandzukic. The Croatian has been in sparkling form this term, hitting 12 goals and two assists in his 19 games, as per ESPN.com.

Deprived of the attacking artistry of Franck Ribery, Bayern will be more dependent on Arjen Robben to provide the service Mandzukic needs to continue his scoring exploits. 

Pep Guardiola has made no secret of his preference for the "false nine" role, a role Mandzukic does not fulfil. However, the former-Wolfsburg man has been in such dependable form this season that Guardiola has been willing to dispense with that philosophy for the goals he brings. 

Arsenal's defence will need to maintain their concentration and organisation for the entire leg if they are to subdue the menace of Mandzukic.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Arsenal 

Sang Tan/Associated Press

Arsenal's young winger has certainly hit a run of form at the right time. 

After experiencing a frustrating start to his season, sustaining a knee ligament injury against Aston Villa in August, Oxlade-Chamberlain has returned to top form in recent weeks.

A double against Crystal Palace and a goal and an assist against Liverpool in the FA Cup has seen the former-Southampton star reaffirm his status as one of the English games best prospects. 

Oxlade-Chamberlain is certainly looking forward to the clash with the European champions, as reported by The Mirror's Liam Prenderville:

We managed to get a good result away at Bayern last season so that brings back good memories. If you're going to do well in the competition, you've got to beat the best teams.

Obviously the big teams create the bigger atmospheres around the stadiums.

Where Mesut Ozil has looked jaded in recent weeks owing to Arsenal's dependency on him, and Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey have succumbed to injury, Oxlade-Chamberlain looks fresh and energetic. 

With his youth comes a certain bravery; the willingness to run at elite sides and take the game to them. Much in the same way as Wayne Rooney once did, Oxlade Chamberlain must use his pace and strength to force Munich into errors. 

Able to play out wide of through the middle, Oxlade-Chamberlain may well prove to be the ace in the pack Munich least expected.

 

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