As Real Madrid and Manchester United became the big fire that sucked so much oxygen from the Champions League room last week, we may have given short shrift to another dandy Round-of-16 contest in the world’s best club competition.
Bayern Munich and Arsenal, similarly representing two of the better European brands, begin their home and away series today. (Kickoff is 2:45 p.m. on Fox Soccer Channel.)
Nothing will come easily today for the home team in north London, especially considering the wealth of attacking options open to Bayern München boss Jupp Heynckes and his Bundesliga leaders.
Bayern has been good lately (winning five of five in 2013) and outstanding on the road all season (winning 10 of 11 road matches this year in league play). Check out some of the other impressive numbers for Bayern this year.
Some European outlets are speculating Heynckes will leave Arjen Robben (pictured above) and Mario Gomez on the bench, deploying them as second-half game-changers if needed. Robben and Gomez on the bench! Meanwhile, top Bundesliga striker Mario Mandžukić, who has seven goals in Bayern’s last five matches, will surely be around to give Arsenal’s back line everything it can handle.
The Germans are certainly mission-focused, still determined to make amends for last year’s blown opportunity; they advanced to the final but fell to Chelsea inside their own gleaming Bavarian arena.
In league play Heynckes’ club is sprinting away with the title, now 15 points clear of second-place Borussia Dortmund. And check out the stunning plus-50 goal difference! So many games have been lopsided affairs there is even worry in some corners that goalkeeper Manuel Neuer will need to shake some rust just to find tip-top form in this one. The big German ‘keeper hasn’t had much to do lately, posting five consecutive shutouts.
None of this means Arsenal doesn’t have a chance. Bayern’s do-all midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger reminded everyone of a certain English international who is having a wonderful campaign, bouncing back wonderfully from a big injury as Jack Wilshere has.
I don’t think one player makes the team but in his position he [Wilshere] is one of the best there is, he is a difficult player. … Wilshere is very dynamic, he has a very good left foot and he has a really good eye for the way he views the players around him. Those are his strong qualities.”
Finally, we mentioned something yesterday of the mounting pressure on Arsene Wenger; Champions League represents the proud club’s final chance at a title this year, and it’s difficult to fancy the Gunners chances with the likes of Bayern, Barcelona, Manchester United, Real Madrid and others still hanging around.
Watch the clip in this link (or just read the text) for more evidence of the building heat. Wenger got quite snippy with some members of the local press yesterday.