Bayern backed to gun down Arsenal
Ben Coley previews Wednesday's Champions League action and expects Bayern to prove too strong for Arsenal.
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Wednesday night sees Arsenal and Bayern Munich do battle for a last-eight spot in the Champions League for the second year running, and it's hard to underline how big a challenge this is for the Premier League side.
Bayern are the tournament favourites as they bid to defend the title they won deservedly last year, having been the subject of a heartbreaking penalty shootout defeat at the hands of Chelsea 12 months prior.
Their form under Pep Guardiola has been sensational, not withstanding a strange game against Manchester City which was, of course, significantly less important than this clash.
As if to prove that result an anomaly, since losing to Manuel Pellegrini's side Bayern have played nine games, winning every one of them with 28 goals scored to just two conceded.
Like the champions they are, Bayern have also found a way to win when not at their best. At the back-end of January they had struggled to break down Stuttgart, who led with 20 minutes on the clock. Come full-time, Bayern had managed to eke out another three points on their march to the Bundesliga title.
Pound-for-pound Arsenal are taking on the best team in Europe and we're going to learn so much about them on Wednesday.
Last year, Bayern were far too quick, too mobile and simply too good for the Gunners in the equivalent fixture. That Arsenal managed to square the tie on aggregate with a remarkable win in the Allianz Arena probably owed quite a bit to the fact that Bayern had been so much better in the first leg and therefore produced a rare display of complacency.
In 2012, it was AC Milan who effectively knocked Arsenal out with a leg to spare with a 4-0 victory at the San Siro. Again, Arsenal produced fireworks in the return but it was too little, too late, and it's quite obvious that at this level they cannot afford a repeat of either first-leg performance.
Arsene Wenger will doubtless argue that his side have come a long way since, and to an extent he's right. Certainly, they've become more solid at home having hosted Liverpool twice this season and conceded just a solitary goal via the penalty spot.
Indeed, they've conceded just nine times at home from 21 games and three of those came on the opening day of the season. Included in these figures are three Champions League clean sheets from four, although it was Bayern's Bundesliga rivals Dortmund who scored twice.
Sunday's 2-1 FA Cup victory over the Reds was vital for Arsenal, not just in that competition but in this one as well. Having lost 5-1 at Anfield a week earlier, it's clear that they needed a victory and while not at their fluent best, they did show a killer instinct against Liverpool which has so often been lacking.
So it's to be hoped they're prepared for the challenge ahead and are able to keep within touching distance of Bayern, who are correctly priced at 2/9 to progress after the two legs and will more than likely do so ultimately.
Wenger may well ask Jack Wilshere to sit alongside Mathieu Flamini in midfield with Mikel Arteta suspended, and this is the sort of stage on which Wilshere can thrive. He's done so before, particularly when Barcelona knocked Arsenal out of the competition in 2011 when he stood shoulder to shoulder with Xavi and Andres Iniesta.
Indeed, if you can find a price it could be worth chancing Wilshere to earn man of the match honours. If Arsenal are to stop Bayern they have to win the midfield battle and Wilshere will be instrumental along with likely sidekick Flamini, who may also be worth a saver. At present, there are no such prices on offer.
Guardiola faces a selection problem, if problem is the right word, with Mario Mandzukic back from suspension. The Croatian has scored for fun this year but may just have to settle for a place on the bench, as he has before in this competition. Thomas Muller or one-time Arsenal target Mario Gotze could instead lead the line, in a manner of speaking, while the absence of Franck Ribery is a boost for the Arsenal defence.
Whatever the case, it's hard to see past Bayern qualifying and their prowess in attack is sufficient for me to ignore Arsenal's improved defensive record. If you do trust the Gunners to keep defending stoutly, 13/10 about them conceding either one or no goals is probably the way to go from a purely statistical perspective.
However, simplistic as it sounds I fancy Bayern to win but Arsenal to give them problems in the first leg as they did a year ago. As such, both teams to score and Bayern to win is the call at a shade over 2/1 but the truth is this is not a game I find easy to assess.
The night's other tie looks to offer the best betting opportunity as Milan play host to our 40/1 ante-post selections, Atletico Madrid.
The La Liga outfit should progress and are priced to do so, but I imagine they'd be happy to head back west with a draw in the locker and at 23/10, a stalemate is surely the value call.
Milan held Barcelona to a draw here in the group stage and achieved the same result when Real Madrid last came to town. Indeed, they've never lost a home game to Real and have a solid record against Barca overall.
Despite a decidedly ordinary Serie A campaign they have only suffered defeat twice in 12 games, while Atletico have lost their last couple on the road to further enhance the belief that they'll be content with a draw.
Going low on goals looks a suitably obvious play but prices make little appeal and the value option is the draw.