February 19, 2014; 19:45 BST
As Arsenal FC host Bayern Munich in the first leg of their round of 16 tie in the Champions League, Pep Guardiola will look for his first win as a manager at the Emirates. Both these sides faced each other last season of this competition as well in this round and the German club prevailed through away goals. But Arsenal and Bayern Munich have come a long way since last season, while the Gunners are now a much more organized team defensively along with more creativity in attack, Bayern Munich have seemingly been unstoppable under Pep Guardiola domestically.
The German club are coming into this game on the back of a comfortable 4-0 win over Freiburg, which extended their lead at the top of the table to 16 points. The Bundesliga title race is virtually over this season and now they will look to conquer Europe once again as they look to become the first team to defend their Champions League crown since AC Milan. Arsenal on the other hand returned to winning ways with a morale boosting 2-1 win over Liverpool in the FA Cup and will look to maintain their momentum in Europe with a positive result in the first leg.
Team news and tactics
Arsene Wenger still has a lot of injury concerns to contain with ahead of this fixture. Thomas Vermaelen remains out of action and is expected to return in the first week of March, while new signing Kim Kallstrom and Aaron Ramsey could return in couple of weeks. Theo Walcott and Abou Diaby remain their other long term injury concerns at the moment. Midfielder Mikel Arteta will also be unavailable for selection in this game as he serves his suspension in Europe.
Arsene Wenger rested a lot of his first team players in the FA Cup ties against Liverpool and is expected to make as many as six changes to the starting line-up that was fielded in that game. Wojciech Szczesny will return in goal as Lukasz Fabianski drops down to the bench. Carl Jenkinson and Nacho Monreal will make way for Kieran Gibbs and Bacary Sagna in the defence, while Jack Wilshere is expected to replace the suspended Mikel Arteta in the midfield.
In attack Santi Cazorla will return to the left wing as Lukas Podolski drops down to the bench. Olivier Giroud, who came on as a substitute against Liverpool, will lead the line in place of Yaya Sanogo. It will be interesting to see if Arsene Wenger persists with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in this game as well. Wenger does have the option of recalling the experienced Tomas Rosicky in the team, but the young Englishman has been in eye catching form off late and has contributed in each of Arsenal’s last five goals in all competitions.
The Gunners won’t enjoy as much possession against Bayern Munich as they normally do against other sides, hence they will be mostly playing on the counter attacks. The London club will look to take inspiration from Manchester City’s win against Bayern Munich earlier this season, a match which exposed the German club’s vulnerability at the back when put under pressure. But keeping a clean sheet in this leg might just be their biggest aim.
Expected starting line-up (4-2-3-1): Szczesny (GK); Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs; Flamini, Wilshere; Cazorla, Ozil, Oxlade-Chamberlain; Giroud
Unlike Arsene Wenger, Pep Guardiola doesn’t have too many injury concerns at the moment, but he will be missing out on couple of key players in this side. Franck Ribery and Holger Badstuber remain out of contention, while Xherdan Shaqiri picked up a knock in the match against Freiburg (after scoring a brace) and will also miss out on this game. But the good news for Bayern Munich is that Bastian Schweinsteiger is fit once again and is likely to start his first game since the 0-1 win over Viktoria Plzen in the group stages back in November.
Like Arsenal, Bayern Munich also rested a lot of their key players against Freiburg in their last game. Jerome Boateng and David Alaba will return to the defence as Javi Martinez and Diego Contento drops back to the bench. Philip Lahm will start in his new found holding midfielder role ahead of the back four as Guardiola makes two changes in attack for this game.
Schweinsteiger will return in the midfield in place of Xherdan Shaqiri, while Claudio Pizarro is likely to be replaced by Mario Gotze. Guardiola also has the option of using Mario Mandzukic upfront in attack after he missed out their last match due to suspension, but the former Barcelona manager might prefer to play a false 9 in this game with Gotze leading the line.
Bayern Munich have conceded just two goals in their last nine games in all competitions since their 2-3 defeat at home against Manchester City, but Guardiola will know that the Gunners do have the fire power in their attack to change it. The key for Bayern Munich is to maintain their focus for the whole ninety minutes of the game, something Guardiola stressed upon in the pre-match press conference. They will look for that crucial away goal in this fixture and then look to close out the game with defensive organization.
Expected starting line-up (4-1-4-1): Neuer (GK); Rafinha, Boateng, Dante, Alaba; Lahm; Muller, Kroos, Schweinsteiger, Robben; Gotze
Players to watch-out for: Santi Cazorla (Arsenal); Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich)
Prediction: Arsenal 1-2 Bayern Munich