5 Reasons to Believe Arsenal Can Topple Bayern Munich
Arsenal are not exactly a club enveloped by optimism. After their recent dispiriting defeat to Chelsea, their title dream appears over. A Champions League last-16 tie against Bayern Munich feels mightily ominous.
However, there is cause for some belief in north London. In this piece, we identify five reasons why this could be the year that Arsenal manage to see off Bayern and make it through to the quarter-finals. Doing so would be a huge fillip for the club and surely do wonders for Arsene Wenger's grip on his managerial position.
So, anxious Gunners fans, read on to allay your fears and take heart from five reasons why Arsenal might just manage to topple Bayern. They're ranked according to how influential they might be in deciding the tie.
5. They Know Their Enemy
Arsenal can't claim to be caught off-guard by what they'll face in Germany on Wednesday. They're all too aware of the danger posed by the Bundesliga champions.
The Gunners have plenty of players with Bundesliga experience in their ranks, which should help them get to grips with Bayern's unique threat.
Their most recent acquisition from German soil is Granit Xhaka, who is available again after missing four domestic matches through suspension. He'll certainly have a point to prove on his return to the country where he became a star with Borussia Monchengladbach. If he is to emerge from this game with his reputation enhanced, Xhaka needs to marry his aggression with a measure of discipline.
4. Mohamed Elneny Is Back
In recent weeks, Arsenal have had a dearth of midfield options. Aaron Ramsey and Santi Cazorla have been out inured, and Xhaka has been suspended. With Mohamed Elneny also on international duty at the Africa Cup of Nations, Wenger must have been cursing his decision to allow Jack Wilshere to join Bournemouth on loan.
However, Arsenal’s midfield options are slowly beginning to return. Ahead of the first leg of the Bayern tie, the most promising news is that Elneny is back in the squad and ready to start. The Egyptian made a brief cameo during the Premier League victory over Hull City on Saturday, and even in that short spell on the field, he was able to demonstrate the energy and efficiency that make him such a useful option.
Elneny senses that this could be his moment. Speaking ahead of the Bayern game, per Jamie Smith of Goal, he said: "The team really needs me now. I don't want a vacation or a time off. I want to work hard and play with the team. Everything is going fine here. We all love our coach, and we don't concentrate on anything other than the next game."
The Egyptian is exactly the sort of player Wenger should pick to face Bayern. He's defensively solid, calm in possession and has the stamina to help the Gunners win the physical battle. With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also finding his feet in a new central role, the Arsenal midfield is shaping up quite nicely ahead of this Champions League tie.
3. Points to Prove on Home Soil
Arsenal have several German players in their ranks who will be looking to impress in their homeland—none more so than Mesut Ozil.
This has not always been a kind fixture for Ozil, who missed a penalty against the German champions back in February 2014. He also goes into this game on a poor run of form, with Wenger telling Josh James of the team's official website after the Hull match that his record signing seems to be suffering from a lack of confidence:
It’s time for him to score again. Maybe he will find confidence back as well, because he misses chances. He is missing the chances that don’t look unfeasible for him.
I felt he didn't feel confident against Hull. It’s always a problem because you think he can deliver something special, but it’s true that technically he missed things [against Hull] that he is not used to.
Despite Ozil’s recent run of disappointing displays, it's unthinkable that Wenger will drop his key creative player for a match of this magnitude. The German might find himself stationed on the flank to allow Arsenal to accommodate an extra central midfielder, but he'll surely be in the starting XI.
Once the match is underway, he'll be determined to prove his value. This should be the sort of night when elite talents ought to thrive. The onus is on Ozil to deliver—and back in his home country, he'll be especially keen to make a positive impact.
2. Home Advantage Still to Come
Arsenal have exited the Champions League at this stage of the competition in each of the last six seasons—twice at the hands of Bayern Munich. However, Wenger feels that the situation may prove to be different this time thanks to the nature of the draw.
As group winners, Arsenal play the home leg second, and Wenger believes that could help them edge through ahead of the German side, telling James:
Yes, we've had bad experiences against them. But I feel that this is a good opportunity.
We have won there before and we play the first game away from home, so it's important we protect the second game because I feel that to have a chance to qualify in the second leg, that will be very important. We go there not high, but to defend well as a team.
Wenger sounds as if he's looking to ensure Arsenal keep things tight and remain in the tie for the home leg, when they can mount a concerted assault on the Bayern goal.
1. Bayern Are Not the Force They Were
They may sit top of the Bundesliga, but this Bayern team are not the irrepressible force they were under Pep Guardiola.
Head coach Carlo Ancelotti lost three matches during his first four months in charge, which is enough to qualify as a crisis in Munich. While they appear to have steadied the ship since, there is a sense that the time may be ripe for Arsenal to finally overcome the Bavarian giants.
Key players like Philipp Lahm and Arjen Robben are in the twilight of their careers, with Lahm even recently announcing he will retire from playing at the end of the campaign.
If Arsenal can find a way through to the next round, it could signal the end of an era at Bayern.