BERLIN – Bayern Munich and Arsenal meet in their big-name Champions League round of 16 first leg on Wednesday, both hoping European success will help lift mid-season gloom on their domestic fronts.
Bayern are on track for a record-extending fifth consecutive title with a seven-point lead thanks to their 2-0 win over Ingolstadt on Saturday.
But that result does not tell the whole story, with the German champions looking lacklustre for most of the match before snatching two goals in the final minutes.
The Bavarians have been more a model of efficiency under coach Carlo Ancelotti than the high-scoring, high-speed train of past seasons under predecessor Pep Guardiola.
With fans grumbling about the lack of spark, Ancelotti said Saturday’s win gave them the boost needed to take on Arsenal.
“This result gives us a lot of confidence for Wednesday,” Ancelotti said. “We showed great character and that is very important.”
Ancelotti could be without winger Franck Ribery, with the Frenchman working towards a comeback from a thigh muscle injury sustained two weeks ago.
“It will be difficult but we will have to see. We will, however, take no risk with this,” said the coach.
Bayern have posted a record 15 straight home wins in the competition, including three this season. Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal have lost in the last 16 for six years in a row, including to Bayern in 2013 and 2014.
The London side ended a two-game losing run with a 2-0 league win over Hull on Saturday but that did little to lift the mood of their fans with Wenger non-committal about his future.
Asked about his future, the coach said: “I focus on what is important, winning football games and getting the team to perform. The rest, I cannot influence.”
Chilean Alexis Sanchez scored both goals against Hull but his own future is equally unclear and Wenger knows that a good result in Munich will go a long way in pushing these issues into the background.
“We have had bad experiences against them (Bayern),” said Wenger of their past eliminations, including one back in 2005. “But I feel that this is a good opportunity.”
“We have won there before and we play the first game away from home, so it is important we protect the second game because I feel that to have a chance to qualify in the second leg, that will be very important.”