Wenger: "Every minute can be important"
It’s always nicer being at home – that’s probably what Arsène Wenger has been thinking in any case. The Arsenal manager led his team through their final training session in London before they made their way to Munich late on Tuesday afternoon.
“We play against Bayern, they’re the favourites,” said Wenger after his team arrived at the Allianz Arena, where Mesut Özil & Co. are able to train. Yet the Gunners also believe they’re well-prepared for another last 16 showdown with FC Bayern. “We have to be very positive and we need to fight and play well.” No other teams have met more often in this round of the Champions League than these two. For the latest instalment, Wenger wants his side to “be efficient and defend well.”
Özil and Mustafi set to start
After back-to-back defeats, Arsenal returned to winning ways last weekend with a 2-0 win against Hull. “Saturday’s game was crucial for us and the Champions League is massive for us too, because we want to prove that we can perform on an international level,” said Per Mertesacker. The Gunners’ captain has just come back from a long-term knee injury and has been included in the squad for the Champions League, although the World Cup winner is unlikely to make his first appearance of the season in Munich.
Two other members of Germany’s 2014 World Cup-winning team are likely to be in the line-up, though. “It’s not the best moment to give out the XI,” Wenger laughed, but he implied that Mesut Özil and Shkodran Mustafi will play. With four goals and three assists, Özil has been Arsenal’s best attacking player in the Champions League this season but the midfielder hasn’t scored for two months. His manager hopes that will change tonight: “Maybe it’s time for him to score again.”
Ospina in goal, Cech on the bench
Meanwhile, Wenger did confirm that David Ospina will continue as the Gunners’ Champions League goalkeeper, with regular number one Petr Cech on the bench. “We finished top of the group because of Ospina,” said Wenger, who also had a word of praise for Manuel Neuer. “Cech is maybe the bigger name internationally but Ospina has produced some good performances in the Champions League. We know we’re up against a very good goalkeeper.”
It’s highly unlikely that the outcome of the match will be decided this evening, but Wenger is nevertheless attaching great importance to the first leg. “We know every minute can be important,” added Wenger, stressing the importance of concentration. “I expect Bayern to try to control the game and dominate possession. We need to put in a great performance.” His stand-in captain Laurent Koscielny also knows the task at hand. “It’s very important to get a good result. We’re capable of winning here.” Bayern might have something to say about that…