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By Ben Grounds
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola has warned his players to take advantage of the possession they have against Arsenal tonight.
The Bavarians arrive in North London for their Champions League last-16 clash after a run of 19 wins from their 21 domestic matches that has seen them develop a 16-point lead over their Bundesliga rivals.
But the Spaniard, who has failed to win in each of his last two visits to the Emirates, believes it won’t be easy to dominate proceedings against the quality of their English opponents.
“I’ve learned it’s impossible to dominate for 90 minutes against Arsenal - maybe until half time or 70 minutes, but not for the duration,” Guardiola said.
“If we let them have the ball we are going to suffer. The team which dominates the ball, will have the best chance of going through.
“It will be tactically and physically on a high level. You have to use your head, as the opponents are not going to wait for you to make decisions. They will punish you.”
Bayern beat Arsenal at the same stage of the competition on the away goals rule last year - with the Gunners’ 2-0 victory at the Allianz Arena not enough to overturn the damage that had already been done in the 3-1 first-leg loss at the Emirates.
Guardiola, who took over from Jupp Heynckes in the summer, was keen to stress his side are focused on this evening’s first leg, and have not thought beyond what he expects to be a very entertaining affair.
In response to being asked about Jack Wilshere’s claim that the Gunners would happily take 0-0 before a ball is kicked at the Emirates, Guardiola was typically unmoved.
“I’m not in the head or heart of the Arsenal players or of [Arsene] Wenger. They will go out to try to win the game, I’m sure.”
Guardiola was of the opinion that Wenger had come in for unwarranted criticism from one particular colleague of late, and defended the Frenchman’s record at the North London club.
“I have a lot of respect for my colleague Arsene. Life is not only about winning trophies. Arsenal have to compete against big teams each year - Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool.”
Despite known injuries to Holger Badstuber (knee), Frank Ribery (back) and Xherdan Shakiri (thigh) Bayern have brought a squad of 19 players that Guardiola is confident will be able to overcome the difficult challenge that awaits them.
Shakiri sustained his injury while scored a double in the 4-0 weekend win over Freiburg, and having scored 57 and conceded only nine in the league, the former Barcelona coach revealed how he keeps last season’s treble winners motivated.
“My target is to play every week better than the week before. Retaining the [Champions League] title is so difficult. I’m not focused or worried about that.
“I know as a trainer that you can’t win everything, which will perhaps disappoint some people. I look at how my team is now compared to how it was and I can see that it is getting better.”
Guardiola reserved special praise for his captain Philipp Lahm, who has developed into an extremely effective holding midfielder since playing there in the absence of several key players at the start of the season.
“We only had [Toni] Kroos available [in that area] at the start of the season. In training sessions, I saw the quality Philipp has to think quickly as a defensive midfielder. Suddenly we had another option, as he is a defender with the ability to make us stable during the game. It would be impossible for us to be where we are now without him.”
Arjen Robben was joined by Manuel Neuer at the press conference last night. Robben was the match-winner for Bayern in last season’s 2-1 Champions League final win against Borussia Dortmund at Wembley Stadium - the last time the Bavarians visited the capital.
While the Dutch international acknowledged that the trip has brought back memories of that “special feeling”, he is fully focused on the task at hand against familiar foes.
“It would be great to have a start like last year [in the first leg] - but Arsenal have improved and have had a good season so far - these will be two difficult games, everyone will give their all.”
“It is a very good target for us to try to reach the final. We have our two feet on the ground, we know we are not in the quarter finals yet. These are going to be two very hard finals for us.”
Bayern goalkeeper Neuer is looking forward to the prospect of playing against Arsenal’s German contingent, especially his close friend Mesut Ozil, who he went to school with and played alongside in his childhood.
“We know all the players, we know it is a very strong team from the second leg [last year]. We have to be very careful right from the start. We know that Arsenal are beatable, but on a good day, they can be a very tough opponent,” Neuer said.