Arsene Wenger claims Arsenal are relishing the opportunity to prove themselves against “the best team in the world” when they meet Bayern Munich in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie. The European champions visit the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday in a rematch of their duel in the same round of last season’s competition. Then Bayern outclassed Arsenal in London, but Wenger is eager to show how far his side have come in the intervening 12 months.
“This game is a measurement of our progress,” he said, according to Arsenal’s official website. “We play against the best team in the world and we have an opportunity to show that we can beat them.
“That means we want to not only be at our level but to raise it. We have to be absolutely efficient in these kinds of games. But I think there were some aspects in the game against Liverpool that tell you the spirit and desire are there, so we are ready for a challenge.”
For many, the turning point in Arsenal’s fortunes was the return leg in Germany last year when Wenger’s men capitalized on the complacency of Bayern to get within a goal of progressing. That proved a springboard in Arsenal securing their place in this season’s Champions League, while they have spent much of this campaign on top of the Premier League. Having suffered a major blow with a 5-1 defeat to Liverpool, they recovered some of their momentum to beat the same opponents in the FA Cup on Sunday.
Their opponents, though, have been unrelenting this campaign. Pep Guardiola was handed something of an unenviable task to improve a team who had just won a unique treble. Yet, he has done just that. Bayern’s only defeat under the former Barcelona coach, other than the German Supercup, has been a largely meaningless match against Manchester City when they had already ensured qualification for the Champions League knockout phase.
Bayern hold a massive 16 point advantage at the top of the Bundesliga, meaning the focus is now squarely on their attempts to become the first team to retain the European Cup in the Champions League era. But Guardiola is by no means getting ahead of himself and is respectful of the threat Arsenal can pose having recorded a draw and a loss at the Emirates in two previous ties when in charge of Barcelona.
“It's my third time here to play Arsenal,” he said, according to Uefa.com. “I've never won here and I've learned that you can't dominate for 90 minutes against Arsenal. You can play good and dominate for half the game perhaps, or for 70 minutes, but for 90 minutes it's impossible.
“With the quality of players Arsenal have we know they can cause [us] a problem, but we'll try to play well, as best we possibly can. We don't think too much about the second leg -- we must concentrate on what we have to do tomorrow and I hope it goes well.”
Bayern will be without both Franck Ribery and the man who scored two goals as his replacement on Saturday, Xherdan Shaqiri. Arsenal have no new injury worries, but will be without the suspended Mikel Arteta.
Where to watch: The Champions League round-of-16 first leg will kick off at 2.45 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by Fox Sports 2, with a live stream available via a free trial to Fox Soccer 2Go.