LONDON (Reuters) - Arsenal are in much better shape to challenge Champions League holders Bayern Munich in the first leg of the last-16 than they were a year ago, coach Arsene Wenger said on Tuesday.
Having met at the same stage of the competition last season, Arsenal will be out to avenge defeat by Bayern as, despite winning the second leg 2-0 at the Allianz Arena, they were eliminated on away goals after losing 3-1 at home.
“Last year I believe we went out on the away goal,” Wenger told a news conference ahead of Wednesday’s game at the Emirates Stadium.
“It shows you it is important not to concede at home. We are in much better mental shape and we are really determined to win this game tomorrow.”
Bayern have changed coach since winning the Champions League last season, with master tactician Pep Guardiola taking over from Jupp Heynckes, but Wenger does expect to see many differences from the side they played a year ago.
“Football is not a chess game, it belongs to the players, when the game starts, it’s (about) the right decisions on the pitch,” said the Frenchman whose side have gone out of the competition at this stage in the last three seasons.
”We as managers prepare the team to do well, we take responsibilities when it doesn’t go well, but don’t forget the main heroes are out on the pitch, not on the bench.
“They play a bit higher up as a unit, but overall they have the same players. (Bastian) Schweinsteiger is coming back (from injury) and he has been replaced by Thiago who is a Spanish type player, but overall the players are the same.”
Arsenal beat Liverpool in the FA Cup on Sunday but Wenger is expected to ring the changes against a Bayern side that have lost once in 34 games and won 13 straight Bundesliga matches.
Santi Cazorla, Kieran Gibbs, Olivier Giroud, Bacary Sagna and Wojciech Szczcesny are all pushing for starts and with Mikel Arteta suspended, Tomas Rosicky could start in midfield alongside Mathieu Flamini.
Jack Wilshere may also bolster Arsenal’s midfield in view of the difficult task of stifling Bayern’s powerhouse midfield, with Schweinsteiger, Tony Kroos and Javi Martinez supplying balls for Thomas Mueller, Arjen Robben and Mario Mandzukic.
The 20-year-old England international is confident Arsenal can rise to the challenge poised by the German side.
“The Champions League is the pinnacle for any player and luckily at Arsenal we get these games every year,” said Wilshere, who has scored two goals in six Champions League appearances this season.
”It’s going to be a different game, we have spoken about the importance of staying in the game - the away goal is massive.
“We saw last year we went out on away goals so we have got to be a bit more intelligent and stay in the game.”
Editing by Rex Gowar