By Josh Reich
Arsenal will be out to show they have learnt the lessons of last season’s painful home defeat by Bayern Munich when the sides meet again in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie in London on Wednesday.
Holders Bayern were utterly dominant in 3-1 victory at the Emirates Stadium, and although Arsenal went on to salvage pride with a 2-0 win in Munich in the return leg, it was not enough to prevent the Gunners going out of the competition in the round of 16 for the third consecutive season.
They face a daunting task to avoid making it four years in a row, however, with the Bayern juggernaut showing little sign of slowing under Pep Guardiola, who led Barcelona to victory over Arsenal at this stage in the 2010-11 season.
Despite recent wobbles, Arsenal are a sterner proposition this time as they mount their first serious Premier League challenge for years, and should be boosted by a 2-1 FA Cup victory over Liverpool, eight days after the same opponents thrashed them 5-1.
German defender Per Mertesacker acknowledged that it would take “two perfect games” for Arsenal to progress, but that it was important not to show Bayern too much respect
“We have to go for two perfect games against them,” he told reporters.
“We know we can beat them now, so maybe mentally we are in a better condition than last year.
“We respected them too much in the first leg then, so it was too easy for them.
“Maybe we have learned something from those lessons and will do better this time.
“Now we have another chance and an opportunity to beat the champions. We want to achieve something exceptional this season, so we have to beat the best.
“That is not only Manchester City and Chelsea, that is Bayern Munich in the Champions League.”
Midfielder Mikel Arteta is suspended after being sent off in the group stage loss to Napoli, while Jack Wilshere and Bacary Sagna, who remained on the bench against Liverpool, Kieran Gibbs and Santi Cazorla, who were second half substitutes and Tomas Rosicky, who was rested, were expected to return.
Bayern’s domestic dominance shows no sign of slowing, with Saturday’s 4-0 win over Freiburg coming despite Jerome Boateng, David Alaba, Thiago and Mario Goetze being rested.
Their Bundesliga winning streak is 13 matches and victory extended their unbeaten run to 46. Their only loss in this season’s Champions League group stage came at home to Manchester City, with qualification already assured.
They will be without France winger Franck Ribery, who is suffering with a buttock injury, and his potential replacement Xherdan Shaqiri, who scored twice against Freiburg, is also out with a thigh strain.
Despite the comprehensive nature of last season’s victory in London, where early goals by Toni Kroos and Thomas Mueller put the visitors 2-0 up after only 21 minutes, Bayern captain Philipp Lahm remained wary of Arsenal
“That game is a warning sign to us,” Lahm said.
“We had been very good in London, we thought nothing can happen to us in the return leg. All of a sudden you are 2-0 down and there are still some minutes to play. It shows that things can go really quickly in the Champions League. We will have that in the back of our minds.”
Lahm said he kept a close eye on Arsenal given their strong German contingent of Mertesacker, Mesut Ozil and Lukas Podolski, as well as uncapped youngster Serge Gnabry
“They’re fighting for the championship, that’s not a coincidence: I believe they have developed as a team. They’ve become much stronger, the squad is more balanced,” he said.
“And they still play the way Arsenal always play. They want to have the ball, they like playing it short, and they have outstanding individuals.”
The return leg in Germany will be played on March 11.