Is everything really on the line in Munich for Arsenal? 

Sunday’s defeat by Aston Villa has added jeopardy, and Mikel Arteta knows ousting Bayern will take some doing on Wednesday night. But the rewards are enormous. Plus, the key battles at the Allianz Arena


ARSENAL landed in a gusty Munich aiming to show they have not been blown off course. A week is a long time in football and it was only last Tuesday, when Mikel Arteta’s players emerged for their first leg to a rapturous reception at the Emirates, that they were being favoured to dethrone a wobbly Bayern Munich. The picture has clouded since then and there is a sense of being caught between absolutes when the rematch kicks off on Wednesday night.

If Arsenal overcome their depleted hosts, they will have achieved an outcome for the ages and can savour a first Champions League semi-final since 2009. Should Bayern make home advantage and elite-level lineage count, those hovering to sound the death knell on their season will form an orderly queue. At this point of a campaign the lightest breeze can resemble a hurricane, as was amply shown by the reaction to Aston Villa’s victory in north London on Sunday.

Is everything really on the line for Arsenal in Bavaria, where Bayern tend to step out with a strut whatever the prevailing conditions? Dwelling on that notion would mean raking back over the possible consequences of the painful defeat by Aston Villa and Arteta had no interest in that.

“Throw the game away, the one we played a few days ago,” he said. “Because regardless of that result, it is going to have no impact on what’s going to happen tomorrow.”

Lumbering any negative baggage into the Allianz Arena would surely be fatal for Arsenal. Arteta was asked whether the looming spectre of last April, when their title chase collapsed shortly after defeat by Sporting Lisbon in the Europa League, may play on minds given the damage sustained on Sunday. It seems slightly unfair to draw direct parallels: for one thing, Arsenal are patently competing strongly in the last eight of the Champions League even if the pursuit of Manchester City feels ominously familiar. But the narrative will swirl if they falter here and the manager admitted there is no surefire way of protecting his players from the noise.

“I cannot control that,” he said. “I cannot take their phones and TVs away, or the people around them. We didn’t lose anything last year because we didn’t win anything. First of all you have to win it and then you can lose it. What we had was an unbelievable journey against the best team in the world. We are not satisfied, we want to be better and that’s the level we are competing with.”

For all the omens, good or bad, there is little reason to play Arsenal’s chances down. Even if nobody in their camp will say it, the absences of Serge Gnabry, Kingsley Coman and Alphonso Davies should hamstring Bayern’s offensive power significantly. Nothing about last week’s offering suggested chances will be impossible to come by at the other end. Plenty has been made of the visitors’ relative inexperience but they have shown this season, at Anfield and the Etihad, that they are able to shapeshift their way to results at previously impenetrable citadels.

“There are lots of things we can do to write our story very differently tomorrow,” Arteta said. “I want my team to be themselves regardless of the stadium.”

He did, though, dangle the caveat that Bayern may force them into contingencies. They may not be able to rip into Thomas Tuchel’s side as they did early on in north London, taking the lead and threatening briefly to run away with it; they will need to show the resilience that earned a point at City, rather than the defensive carelessness that has resurfaced in their last two outings. A chess match and burning of the midnight oil cannot be ruled out.

Bukayo Saka and Martin Ødegaard trained on Tuesday and should both be fit to start. Arteta would hardly have wanted injury problems of his own and his biggest quandary may lie at left-back, where Jakub Kiwior struggled in the first meeting and Oleksandr Zinchenko toiled to audible disapproval from the home crowd against Villa. Perhaps Takehiro Tomiyasu would be the soundest option against a Bayern side that retain a potentially match‑winning threat out wide.

Should Arsenal prevail it will be their most significant result in Europe since the 2-0 win over Milan, whose old guard were creaking but nonetheless entered the tie as competition holders, in the 2007-08 last 16. Perhaps that, more than anything, demonstrates the line between feast and famine that they tread in Munich. The consequences could be transformative and Arteta was happy to jump on that particular piece of hype.

“Absolutely, it would be unbelievable,” he said. “If we make it happen tomorrow and we’re in the semi-final, we’ll be in a really high emotional state with something that we haven’t achieved in 15 years. That’s the opportunity.” Arsenal have their chance to shape the weather.


KEY BATTLES: Thomas Tuchel v Mikel Arteta.

TUCHEL looked so confident as he addressed the media ahead of the match on Tuesday. His Bayern Munich reign will be terminated at the end of the season due to their poor showing domestically, but he speaks from a position of strength when it comes to Champions League football. The German coach masterminded Chelsea’s success against the odds in 2021 and Bayern have looked a different team in their European matches too. He showed his tactical nous by adapting to Mikel Arteta’s heavy press in the first leg and will have a defined game plan for Wednesday night too.

This is new ground for Arteta as a manager and a lot of focus will be on his team selection and tactics. He can take faith, however, from the way he got Arsenal back into this tie from 2-1 down last week. He reacted by bringing on Oleksandr Zinchenko at half-time and then Gabriel Jesus for Jorginho with 25 minutes remaining. The changes were inspired, with Jesus teeing up fellow substitute Leandro Trossard to equalise.

Harry Kane v William Saliba.

Harry Kane has scored 39 goals since leaving Tottenham for Bayern Munich last summer, but he knows his season will be written up as a failure if he does not win a trophy. The Champions League represents his last chance to do that, so expect to see an even more fired-up England striker against the club he loves to score against.

France central defender Saliba was not at his Rolls Royce best against Kane in the first leg but improved as the match wore on and it was only from the penalty spot that Kane really threatened the Arsenal goal.

A huge test for young Saliba and one that could be defining for him if he comes out on top against the player Arsenal fans love to hate.

If Kane gets his customary goal against Arsenal – he has 15 in his previous 20 matches against him – it is likely to be game over for Saliba and co.

Kai Havertz v Eric Dier

Eric Dier’s switch from Tottenham to Bayern Munich was greeted with some surprise in England and Germany. He has won over the Bayern brigade, as this key sentence in yesterday’s local illustrated. ‘What a signing Dier’s turned out to be. Solid player who seems like an excellent leader/personality as well.’ He did, however, make a few errors on the ball in London and Arsenal’s Kai Havertz is likely to be the player Arteta charges with trying to make the most of any mistakes.

Havertz’s big money move from Chelsea also raised a few eyebrows but has also proved to be a transfer masterstroke. The German international, expected to play as a No 9 against centre-back Dier, will be on the receiving end of the verbals at the Allianz arena but he has the big-match experience to cope.

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