Bayern Munich v Arsenal: What Arsenal would give to be burdened by Bayern's issues
Munich have 'only' been winning by the odd goal of late. The Gunners' problems run so much deeper
When Jupp Heynckes was asked whether he was concerned that Bayern Munich were winning too many games recently by only single-goal margins, you could tell this is a club that is a very long way away from the various crises that have gripped their opponents tomorrow night.
Bayern are still crushing all opposition before them. They are currently on an 11-game winning streak and have not lost since 28 October. Until their 3-2 victory over Fortuna Düsseldorf on Saturday, that October defeat to Bayer Leverkusen was the last time they had conceded two goals in a game. Bate Borisov beat them 3-1 in Belarus at the start of October, their only other defeat of the season, which is the result Arsenal need against them tomorrow night to take this Champions League last-16 tie to extra-time.
In short, the task facing an Arsenal side without Jack Wilshere, Bacary Sagna, Lukas Podolski and Wojciech Szczesny is all but hopeless and if they were to turn it around and reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League, it would rank with the biggest shocks of recent times. The formbook dictates that Arsenal should be happy to get out of Munich with a respectable defeat and turn their attention to securing a top-four finish in the Premier League.
Not that Bayern are taking anything for granted, demonstrating the steely-eyed focus that you would expect of them. To make his point, Heynckes cited Arsenal's doomed comeback against Milan last season when they lost the first leg 4-0 and won the return, at the Emirates, 3-0. "They could have scored four with the chances they had," he said.
"I have no interest in dividing up the skin before I kill the bear," Heynckes said, when it came to addressing any potential complacency. "My team is not listening to those saying we are the best team in Europe at the moment." Unfortunately in this case, the figurative bear in question has been chained up so long that it has started to behave erratically. Putting Arsenal out of their misery as swiftly and humanely as possible might be best for all concerned.
What is most troubling about this Arsenal team is that it has the feel of a side that has already conceded the tie and has one eye on a difficult trip to Swansea City on Saturday. Arsène Wenger said that he hoped the situation could liberate his team but, equally, this is not a side with the confidence to withstand a heavy defeat.
There will be no Franck Ribéry in the Bayern team tomorrow night. He has not recovered from an ankle injury. Bastian Schweinsteiger and Jérôme Boateng are suspended. The Dutch winger Arjen Robben is, however, fit to play. "Before you hand out all the cookies, we have to win this tie," Heynckes said. He did nothing to dispel the notion that he will pick his strongest team.
Philipp Lahm did his best to be diplomatic about Arsenal, who he described as a "technically gifted team" who put Bayern under pressure, he said, in their better moments in the home leg on 19 February. "I still think they are a top team," Lahm said. "They always qualify for the Champions League and go through the group stages. They have a lot of experience... whether they are right at the top level, I don't know."
As for Heynckes, his defence of Wenger – "a very creative manager, producing almost fantasy football" – showed the high regard in which the Arsenal manager is still held across Europe. "Talented players have come in but for every manager it is essential that if you want to play at the absolute top level, for Bayern Munich, for Barcelona, for Real Madrid, you have to have the players to do that," he said. "At Arsenal, maybe it has been a bit more difficult for Arsène Wenger. For me, in the last 10-15 years, he has been one of the best managers in Europe."
"He is a few years younger than me. I would be very sad if he was not actively involved any more but I imagine he will continue."
There are four years and four months in age difference between the two men and Heynckes is, of course, being moved aside in the summer for the most stellar name from the new generation of European coaches, Pep Guardiola.
If Wenger is to sign a new contract around the time of his 64th birthday in October, then he will have to make an impressive start to next season with, ideally from Arsenal's point of view, a squad of players overhauled in the summer. The biggest fear, of course, is that tomorrow night could be the club's last game in the Champions League for a while and where will that leave Wenger and the delicate issue of his future?
It was Franz Beckenbauer who had offered a mild criticism of Bayern's first-half defensive performance against Fortuna at the weekend, which was put to Lahm by the German press. "Before we had the question, can we turn games around?" he said. "We have shown we can do that. We are ready."
You get the impression that a German public, dazzled by Bayern's success this season, are all but giving up on trying to find weaknesses in the side. If only it was as simple as that for Arsenal and Wenger, who could find life uncomfortable indeed if things go badly tomorrow night.
Kick off 7.45pm TV Sky Sports 2
Referee P Kralovec (Cz Rep).
Odds to qualify Bayern 1-100 Arsenal 25-1.
Porto bank on away record
If FC Porto, who haven't lost away from home this year, maintain that record at Malaga today, the Portuguese club will progress to the Champions League quarterfinals for the seventh time.
The two-time champions, who won 1-0 in the first leg three weeks ago, are expected to welcome back midfielder Joao Moutinho after two weeks out injured and central defender Ezequiel Mangala following a shoulder injury. Malaga will be at full strength.
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