Back in the English capital for the first time since lifting the trophy last May, goalkeeper Manuel Neuer and winger Arjen Robben, joined by heir to the treble-winning throne Pep Guardiola, were all unanimous in the view that the resurgent Gunners mean serious business at the Emirates Stadium.
'Tough for us'
“It’s superb to be back in London at the same hotel," beamed Robben - the Bavarians’ match-winner against Borussia Dortmund all those months ago at Wembley. “But it’s a new season and we’re all starting from scratch. Arsenal are stronger, they’re having a good season. Both games will be tough for us and we have to try and win the first leg.”
Bayern did exactly that at the same juncture of last season’s competition, coasting to a 3-1 win on Arsenal soil thanks to goals from Toni Kroos, Thomas Müller and Mario Mandzukic. The tie seemingly wrapped up, complacency crept in back at the Allianz Arena, where Arsene Wenger’s men narrowly missed out on a place in the last eight by virtue of the Bundesliga giants’ three away goals after a gutsy 2-0 win.
'A great signing'
It’s a game Neuer remembers all too well. “We know the Arsenal players,” he said. “We have to be careful from the start and in both games.” For the Bayern custodian in particular, Wednesday’s meeting carries an even greater significance, with up to four Germany internationals set to tread the North London boards on Wednesday, including fellow Gelsenkirchen native Mesut Özil.
“It’s special to play in England against my international team-mates,” the German shot-stopper continued. “Me and Mesut are from the same city and went to the same school. England’s been a new experience for him. 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.”
'Bayern are favourites'
Guardiola couldn’t help but agree, but rather than dwell on the undeniable threat posed by Arsenal’s fleet-footed midfield maestro, the impeccably tailored Catalan was quick to shift attentions to his own star collective, highlighting the latest hurdle standing in the way of their bid to become the first team ever to win back-to-back Champions League crowns.
“19 players have made the trip, only [Franck] Ribery and [Xherdan] Shaqiri are missing,” he divulged. “I expect players with a good mentality to win the game. 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.”
Arsenal: Szczesny - Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs - Wilshere, Flamini, Rosicky - Santi Cazorla, Özil, - Giroud
Bayern: Neuer - Rafinha, J. Boateng, Dante, Alaba - Lahm - Thiago, Robben, T. Kroos, M. Götze - T. Müller
Christopher Mayer-Lodge reporting from the Landmark Hotel