Arsenal have given themselves a mountainous task to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League, and to keep their hopes alive they simply must get the better of group leaders Bayern Munich in the first of a double-header.
The visitors have won both of their matches so far, condemning Olympiakos to a rare home defeat with a clinical performance before breezing past Dinamo Zagreb, and qualification for them already looks a foregone conclusion. On the other hand, Arsenal have lost to both of those sides and are now faced with the very real prospect of not making it through their group for the first time in many a year.
While there were – to an extent – mitigating circumstances which contributed to their defeat in Zagreb, there was certainly no excuses against the Greek champions after a display that reeked of naivety. Twice the Gunners came from behind to draw level, only to see themselves go behind again within seconds on both occasions, switching off completely at the back and leaving them to desperately chase the game.
Nothing less than a win will suffice for Arsenal, who have lost their previous two home meetings with Bayern. Maybe a win here will go some way to proving their ability when coming up against the best sides that Europe has to offer, but it would also make a mockery of their disastrous start to this Champions League campaign and raise questions over why they could not deliver in the opening two matches.
Those failings are made all the more surprising when the club’s domestic form is taken into consideration, with Arsenal lying two points off the top of the Premier League table in second place, having won their last two games by a three-goal margin. A stunning start saw them overcome rivals Manchester United, while after meeting stubborn resistence from Watford at the weekend, took them apart with a devastating second half spell.
Alexis Sanchez is a man right at the top of his game and he must maintain that level of performances for this game to give his side the best possible chance, while Mesut Ozil will sense another opportunity to deliver in a game where much is at stake. Manager Arsene Wenger must also decide whether to restore Olivier Giroud to his starting XI at the expense of Theo Walcott, and whether to have Petr Cech in goal, having been much maligned for selecting understudy David Ospina against Olympiakos.
Many of Bayern’s Bundesliga rivals seem to held their hands up and admitted that there is nothing to stop them from winning the league again, such is their superiority. They have won all nine of their games and sit seven points clear of the rest, so it looks like a procession already. But there is great expectation to succeed in the Champions League, a competition that Josep Guardiola is determined to win for a third time.