As sublime as Bayern Munich has looked over the last two seasons, they’ve also had two notably close calls against English competition. In last season’s UEFA Champions League, the Gunners’ 2-0 win at the Allianz Arena in the second leg of the teams’ Round of 16 matchup meant the eventual champions had to rely on away goals to advance to the quarterfinals. This year, a Bayern team that had seemingly won its group almost gave up the top spot on the last day to Manchester City, who only needed one more goal in Munich to go through in first.
That’s why, amid all of the respectful things Bayern’s players and staff are saying ahead of tomorrow’s game at the Emirates, there may be a grain of truth. Whereas the typical pregame niceties always carry a note of obligation, Bayern’s recent experiences give them reason to be wary. They’re clearly the better team, but if they don’t play to their potential, they’re still capable of being beaten.
“Arsenal are stronger (than last year), they’re having a good season,” Arjen Robben told the Bundesliga website, the Dutch attacker returning to the city where his game-winning goal gave Bayern May’s Champions League title. “Both games will be tough for us and we have to try and win the first leg.”
Bayern boss Pep Guardiola, also familiar with second leg scares from Arsenal, echoed Robben’s caution. En route to his second Champions League title, Guardiola’s Barcelona met Arsenal in the 2010-11 Round of 16, with a controversial second leg red card to Robin Van Persie helping the Blaugrana hold off the Gunners at home. Barça would go onto to defeat Manchester United in the final.
“I expect players with a good mentality to win the game,” Guardiola said. “It’s the most prestigious competition in the world. Arsenal are a good team and I’m sure the fans will enjoy the game. We accept Bayern are favourites, but I’m used to that.”
For goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, who hails from the same city and school as Arsenal’s Mesut Özil, the German playmaker adds another dimension to the Gunners’ midfield.
“England’s been a new experience for him,” Neuer said. “He’s more physical now and adds quality to the Arsenal midfield. He’s a great passer of the ball and has been a great signing for them.”
Perhaps this is nothing more than Bayern going through the motions, but last year’s scare from Arsenal may give the Gunners confidence. If München wants to keep that confidence from becoming momentum, they’ll need a strong performance in North London.