Bayern returned from their winter break with successive victories over Freiburg and Werder Bremen, extending their run of wins to seven, but were then held to a disappointing draw against Schalke, before knocking Wolfsburg out of the German Cup. Their Champions League campaign didn’t go entirely to plan, as they suffered defeats at Atletico Madrid and Rostov, but they were never in danger of missing out on the knock-out stages.
Successive defeats to Watford and Chelsea have left Arsenal twelve points off the pace domestically, and this unpleasant draw against the German giants is a poor reward for the Gunners’ undefeated progress through their Champions League Group. A home fixture with lowly Hull on Saturday might give them confidence ahead of their trip to Bavaria, but their form over the last fortnight will certainly not have Bayern worried.
Key Bayern players Arjen Robben and Xabi Alonso started in the Cup game against Wolfsburg, as did Arturo Vidal, who had been missing for three weeks with a rib injury. The one remaining doubt for the German side is Franck Ribery. The French winger picked up a thigh injury in training at the end of January, has not played since and may not be risked in this one.
Arsenal were forced to field Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in a central role against Chelsea, and will still be without midfielders Aaron Ramsey and Santi Cazorla for this game, but their central midfield department will be strengthened by the return of Mohamed Elneny from AFCON duty with Egypt, and by Granit Xhaka, who was suspended for the Chelsea game.
Bayern and Arsenal have met ten times since their first encounter in December 2000. The German side have had the better of the fixture, with five wins to Arsenal’s three.
The Gunners prevailed 2-0 at home when the two teams met in the group stage of last season’s tournament but lost the return fixture 5-1. Arsene Wenger’s side also pulled off a notable 2-0 victory at the Allianz Arena in 2013, but that wasn’t enough to stop Bayern progressing to the quarter-finals. Bayern also knocked Arsenal out of the Champions League in 2005 and 2014, and have never lost to the Gunners in a two-legged tie.
This is the time of year when things tend to fall apart for Arsenal and there is no indication that they are any more resolute psychologically or physically this season than last.
Under Carlos Ancelotti, Bayern don’t press as hard as they did under Pep Guardiola, which should give the Arsenal midfield a little breathing space, but with the absence of Cazorla and Ramsey, they lack a little guile in that department. Ancelotti is particularly adept at preparing his teams to peak for Champions League games, and I can’t see the Germans having too much difficulty grinding out a comfortable home win here to take into the second leg of this tie.