Arsenal must be perfect to beat Bayern in Champions League showdown and keep season alive

Arsenal must be perfect to beat Bayern in Champions League showdown and keep season alive

Mikel Arteta wants Arsenal to stand up and be counted — and what better place for them to do that than here in the Bavarian capital.

The Allianz Arena is the scene of some their most painful recent European memories, and history is not on their side tonight as they bid to reach the semi-finals of the Champions League for the first time in 15 years.

Arsenal have lost 5-1 on their last two visits to Bayern, their joint-heaviest away defeats in Europe, and have won only one of their six away games against the Bundesliga giants.

But this quarter-final feels far more evenly matched, especially after a 2-2 draw in the first leg at Emirates Stadium last week.

Both sides have endured difficult weekends since then, with Bayern seeing Bayer Leverkusen crowned German champions and Arsenal surrendering control of the Premier League title race to Manchester City.

Arsenal’s 2-0 home defeat by Aston Villa was their first league loss of the year and it is crucial they do not let it derail their season.

The [Villa] game ... is going to have no impact on what’s going to happen

Mikel Arteta

It was around this time last year that their campaign crumbled — and this season suddenly feels like it is on a knife-edge.

Win tonight, and momentum will be with Arsenal against. Lose, and it will be hard to see how Arteta halts the same slide happening again.

“Throw the [Villa] game away, the one that we played a few days ago, because regardless of that result, it is going to have no impact on what’s going to happen,” said Arteta yesterday. “Refocus and start to build the confidence, the trust and understanding the performance that we are going to have to put in tomorrow to beat them and go through in the tie.”

Bayern are marginal favourites to go through, thanks largely to their pedigree at this level.

Arsenal last played in a Champions League semi-final in 2009, and since then Bayern have played in eight, going on to lift the trophy twice.

They have also, ominously for Arsenal, only failed to progress from one of their previous 18 two-legged ties in the Champions League knockout stages when avoiding defeat in the first leg.

But this is not a vintage Bayern side and they are weaker than they were a week ago in north London.

Arsenal defenders will be relieved winger Serge Gnabry, who scored the opener in the first leg, is out with a hamstring strain after his pace caused them so many problems last week. Fellow winger Kingsley Coman is also absent with an adductor injury and Leroy Sane will be playing through injury tonight.

Mikel Arteta cannot let Arsenal collapse for the second season running (Action Images via Reuters)
Mikel Arteta cannot let Arsenal collapse for the second season running (Action Images via Reuters)

A huge boost for Arsenal is that left-back Alphonso Davies is suspended. After a shaky start last week, the 23-year-old recovered well and his pace was vital in Bayern’s ability to stop Bukayo Saka. Now Davies is out, Thomas Tuchel has a big call to make as to whether Noussair Mazraoui or Raphael Guerreiro starts at left-back. Neither is at the level of Davies.

That should lift Saka. He has enjoyed a fantastic debut season in the Champions League, scoring four goals and laying on the same number of assists. No English player has a better tally in their first season at this level, while only Thierry Henry has registered more combined goals and assists for Arsenal in a single edition of the Champions League.

If Arsenal are to progress, they will need Saka (below, at the Allianz Arena last night) to be their talisman once more, and Tuchel is well aware of the threat the Gunners carry down the right flank. “I think with Bukayo Saka and Martin Odegaard, they always attack on the right, at least the beginning of an attack,” said the Bayern boss. “They try to create an overlap there to get through or to switch sides. We did well in the first leg, but it’s only half-time.”

Arteta has his own dilemma at left-back. Jakub Kiwior started the first leg, but he was hooked at half-time because Sane was terrorising him. Oleksandr Zinchenko came on in his place and did well, but during the Villa game there was another reminder of his defensive lapses in concentration. Arsenal cannot afford those tonight. It is why Arteta could be tempted to turn to Takehiro Tomiyasu, who is arguably his best one-on-one defender, but who has not started a game since December.

Whoever gets the nod will have an important job keeping Sane quiet.