Arsenal v Bayern Munich – The Emirates, 7.45pm (Live on tv3)
BAYERN MUNICH MANAGER Jupp Heynckes has urged Arsenal supporters to stop criticising Arsene Wenger because the Gunners boss can no longer compete financially with English football’s big spenders.
Wenger has been under increasing pressure this season and heads into Tuesday’s Champions League last 16 first leg against Bayern desperately needing to win the competition after an eight-year trophy drought.
The Frenchman was already feeling the heat following Arsenal’s embarrassing League Cup exit to Bradford in December and the criticism went up a notch following their shock FA Cup defeat to second-tier Blackburn on Saturday.
With their Premier League title aspirations long gone, some sections of the Gunners’ support have called on Wenger to resign.
But Heynckes believes his opposite number should not shoulder the blame while the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City out-spend Arsenal every year.
“Arsenal are a great team and Arsene Wenger is a very good coach. You can see his team has a very great dynamic about it,” Heynckes said at a pre-match press conference on Monday.
“You have to take into consideration Arsenal are competing with Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City.
Over the years Arsenal have been selling their best players while these other teams get in top world stars. So I don’t think it is fair to blame Arsene Wenger for that.
“Take away the recent game against Blackburn, they are fifth in the league and they have played a lot of positive football in the Champions League.”
The two teams head into the first leg at Emirates Stadium in contrasting form.
Arsene Wenger’s men host the first leg in London on Tuesday, three days after suffering a shock 1-0 loss to Blackburn in the FA Cup.
On the other hand, Bayern have stormed 15 points clear atop the Bundesliga and have won their five competitive matches this year.
Heynckes’ side are unbeaten in 18 outings and – despite being away from home – deserve favouritism.
That leaves Arsenal in danger of finishing yet another season without silverware, with the last major trophy they lifted coming with their victory in the FA Cup in 2005.
Their chances of progressing deep in Europe took a huge blow when they fnished second in Group B to Schalke, leaving them certain to face a massive task in the last 16.
A rampant Bayern side will be hard to stop, especially with the firepower Heynckes has at his disposal in the attacking third.
Lukas Podolski is set to face his former side tonight. Credit: Alastair Grant/AP/Press Association Images
Croatian striker Mario Mandzukic is the equal leading goalscorer in the Bundesliga with 15, while the likes of Thomas Mueller, Toni Kroos and Bastian Schweinsteiger are all capable of finding the net.
Add Mario Gomez, who has been unable to recapture his form of last season after his ankle injury, and Franck Ribery to the equation and Arsenal will have their hands full.
Mueller shapes as being the most dangerous attacker and his ability to set up goals as well as score is crucial for Bayern.
In their five competitive match wins in 2013, Bayern are yet to concede while they have netted 13 times.
In what is likely to be a high-scoring tie, Arsenal have attacking weapons of their own when at their best.
Forward Lukas Podolski will face his former club, while there is also good news on the injury front for Wenger.
Thomas Vermaelen and Laurent Koscielny returned from injury against the Rovers, while Jack Wilshere came off the bench but should start on Tuesday.
An upset win over two legs against Bayern would silence Wenger’s critics, but form – and class – suggests last season’s runners-up should progress.