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'Champions League flavour'

Happy memories tempered by caution

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The bus transfer from Gatwick airport to the team hotel in central London was a pleasant trip down memory lane for Bayern. After all, the famous day in May 2013 when Philipp Lahm, Manuel Neuer and Co were crowned Kings of Europe in London is not really so long ago. But FCB have not come to the English capital to wallow in fond memories. The treble winners face Arsenal in the Champions League Round of 16 first leg on Wednesday night (Live in English from 8.45 pm on Twitter and Web Radio) looking to come away with a decent result ahead of the return in Munich.

“It feels very special to be back, in this city, in this hotel,” declared the hero of Wembley Arjen Robben at the pre-match press conference, held at the Landmark Hotel, Bayern’s customary place of lodging in London and where they stayed prior to the Champions League final. “It brings back memories. But it’s a new season and a new edition of the competition,” the Dutchman added, swiftly turning his attention to the present, “we start again from scratch. We can expect two difficult matches.“

But Bayern thrive on challenges like this. Before the 85-minute flight from Munich, Uli Hoeneß was in buoyant and upbeat spirits. “When you travel to London, to such a fantastic stadium to play such good opponents, you feel joy in your heart,” said Hoeneß, “I’ve been looking froward to this for weeks. It’s the Champions League flavour and we should all be enjoying it.“

Always confident

“We’re all delighted it starts again now,” confirmed club captain Lahm prior to the first Champions League match of 2014, fully aware that the team lying second in the Premier League represent a tough hurdle. That was a view shared by Pep Guardiola, who warned that “you’ll never dominate such a well-organised team as Arsenal for 90 minutes. It’s impossible. But it’ll be a good test for us and we’ll see where we stand in Europe.”

FCB president Hoeneß is expecting “a clash between equals,” but Thomas Müller issued a rallying cry prior to the reunion with Arsene Wenger’s side: “We have to stand up to them,” said the Germany international, “Arsenal are doing really well in the title race. You can tell they have quality.“ The player called for a ruthless approach: “We need to be equipped with our killer instinct.” Bayern are certainly not short on belief, as Lahm noted, “because we’re always confident after our long undefeated run in the Bundesliga.”

Alert and hungry

Arsenal will not be lacking confidence themselves following a hard-fought 2-1 victory over high-flying Liverpool in the last sixteen of the FA Cup, making morale-boosting amends for a 5-1 league thrashing against the same opponents the previous week. And in any case, FCB have not forgotten the 2-0 defeat at home to the Gunners in last season’s second leg.  As Neuer recalled, “we were close to being knocked out. We have to be wide awake.“

In terms of his team selection, Guardiola will field a close to full-strength side, as the only men definitely out are Holger Badstuber, Franck Ribéry and Xherdan Shaqiri. For the Gunners, Mikel Arteta is suspended, and Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey and Kim Källström are all injured. Munich fans everywhere will be hoping the Reds leave London the way they arrived on Tuesday, with very happy memories.