Arsenal are set to welcome back several players who sat out Sunday’s FA Cup win over Liverpool when they take on Bayern Munich in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie against Bayern Munich. Manager Arsene Wenger has confirmed that there were no problems picked up at the weekend, with Tomas Rosicky’s return to the squad in place of the suspended Mikel Arteta being the only alteration to the party that will take on the European champions at the Emirates. Aaron Ramsey, Kim Kallstrom, Theo Walcott, Thomas Vermaelen and Abou Diaby remain on the sidelines.
Wenger’s gamble to make a host of changes to his team against Liverpool ultimately paid dividends with a 2-1 win. And he will hope some of his key players return refreshed and full of intensity as they face the most daunting of challenges. Wojciech Szczesny, Bacary Sagna, Kieran Gibbs, Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud, are all likely to come back into the starting lineup. Wenger’s main selection dilemma is set to be whether to keep Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the side after his man-of-the-match performance against Liverpool or to opt for the European experience of Rosicky.
Bayern Munich were not so fortunate at the weekend, with their 4-0 win over Freiburg coming at the cost of an injury to the man who bagged a brace in the Bundesliga clash, Xherdan Shaqiri. With Franck Ribery already ruled out, the absence of the Swiss attacking midfielder comes as an even bigger blow to coach Pep Guardiola.
“It's a shame for him,” Guardiola said, according to Bayern Munich’s official website. “He can play in the middle or on the flanks. He’s dynamic and he knows where the goal is. He's another important player for me.”
Despite those injuries, Bayern still present a formidable obstacle with their wealth of options. Those choices have been enhanced of late by the return from injury of Bastian Schweinsteiger. The experienced midfielder, capped 100 times by Germany, made his second appearance off the bench against Freiburg and may now make his first start for over three months against Arsenal. But Guardiola also has Toni Kroos, Thiago Alcantara, Javi Martinez, Mario Gotze, Thomas Muller and the brilliantly converted full-back Philipp Lahm as options in the middle.
Two players almost certain to return to the starting lineup after being left on the bench against Freiburg are defenders David Alaba and Jerome Boateng. Mario Mandzukic may also return up front in place of Claudio Pizarro. Mandzukic is the club’s top scorer this season with 18 goals in all competitions. Yet, in order to give the side greater control of midfield on the road, Gotze could get the nod as a false nine.
Bayern Munich come into the contest 16 points clear at the top of the Bundesliga, while Arsenal have relinquished their long hold on the top of the Premier League but remain just a point off the summit.
The duel is a repeat of the tie at the same stage of last season’s Champions League. On that occasion Bayern outclassed Arsenal in a 3-1 win at the Emirates Stadium before the Gunners restored some pride with a 2-0 victory at the Allianz Arena.
D: Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs
M: Flamini, Wilshere
Rosicky, Ozil, Cazorla
D: Rafinha, Boateng, Dante, Alaba
Muller, Schweinsteiger, Kroos, Robben