UNDER-FIRE Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger believes a patient approach to his side’s daunting Champions League last 16 tie with German giants Bayern Munich can see the Gunners reach the quarter-finals for the first time in three seasons.
The Bundesliga leaders visit the Emirates Stadium for the first leg tonight on the back of five straight league wins, while Arsenal supporters are still coming to terms with Saturday’s humiliating 1-0 defeat to Championship club Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup fifth round.
Such has been Bayern’s domestic dominance this season they have only dropped points in four of their 22 league fixtures, have conceded just seven goals and are a mammoth 16 points clear of closest challengers Borussia Dortmund at the top of the table.
But Wenger, who has steered his team through 14 consecutive Champions League campaigns, believes Arsenal can draw on their wealth of European experience and knock out one of the tournament favourites.
“What is important is that we focus on the quality of our game,” said the 63-year-old.
“We have to put in our head that we have 180 minutes to qualify and not rush our game.
“We must play at our best and
with belief. I believe in our quality. The fact is that in the last 11 games in the Premier League we have lost two, so we are on a good run overall.
“The game of the week is now the Champions League. You cannot compare the FA Cup to the Champions League.”
Wenger has not won a European trophy since taking the reins at Arsenal in 1996 and, following their FA Cup elimination, the Champions League remains their only hope of lifting silverware this season.
However, being paired with the Bavarian club, who have reached two of the last three tournament finals, has left some Gunners fans writing off their side’s chances of ending eight years without winning a major honour before a ball has even been kicked in this tie.
Arsenal will have to reshuffle their defence with left-back Nacho Monreal cup-tied and central defender Laurent Koscielny struggling with a calf injury.
Carl Jenkinson is available, while Thomas Vermaelen could be deployed at left-back.
But, despite their uncertainty at the back, Wenger admits his priority is to keep Bayern at bay.
“It is vital to keep a clean sheet,” he added.
“0-0 is not a disaster at home, but of course we will try to score goals.”
Bayern, who have progressed against Arsenal over two legs in both previous Champions League meetings, will be without defenders Jerome Boateng and Holger Badstuber, while former Chelsea striker Claudio Pizzaro is also missing.
However, £34m summer signing Javi Martinez is expected to be fit after the midfielder missed Friday’s 2-0 win over Wolfsburg with a bruised toe.
Head coach Jupp Heynckes is anticipating a tough test.
“Despite the result [against Blackburn] Arsenal have found their rhythm again in the last few weeks,” he said.
“They are very good going forwards and are an excellent team. “They have wonderful players in their ranks and I’m wary of underestimating them.”