Arsenal Seek To Silence Doubters As Bayern Champions League Test Looms

Arsenal are preparing for a possibly season-defining Champions League showdown against Bayern Munich on Wednesday, as traditional worries linger about their ability to handle the pressure following their Premier League defeat to Aston Villa.

Sunday’s 2-0 defeat brought back painful memories for Mikel Arteta’s team, which led for the majority of last season before faltering in the home straight, allowing Manchester City to pass them.

Long-suffering fans are once again fearing the worst, with City back at the top of the table and favourites to win a record fourth consecutive Premier League title.

Arsenal’s first league loss of 2024 was all the more galling after Liverpool’s stunning defeat by Crystal Palace earlier in the day dashed the club’s title chances.

Until Sunday’s defeat, the Gunners had convinced many that they were the real deal, combining grit and style during a 10-win streak in 11 Premier League games.

The only interruption in that series was a hard-fought draw at City’s Etihad Stadium, which was interpreted as a sign of progress.

Arsenal, who have never won the Champions League, will travel to Bayern’s stadium with little time to lick their wounds as they aim for their first semi-final appearance in the competition since 2009.

The first leg at the Emirates last week ended 2-2.

Normally, Arteta’s squad would be clear underdogs against the six-time European champions, but Bayern are in an odd situation: they are coming to grips with the end of their 11-year dominance of the German top flight, which has been broken by Bayer Leverkusen.

Bounce Back 

Declan Rice, hailed as a key cog in Arsenal’s strengthened midfield this season, believes the high-profile game is the ideal stage for his side to show their mettle.

“It’s the perfect game for a reaction,” said the former West Ham player, who moved across London last July.

“We need a reaction on Wednesday night and it is a great chance to show our character and leadership. It’s time to go out there and hopefully get into the semi-finals of the Champions League.

“We have to park this to the side now. It’s gone, it’s a game of football. We’ve lost but we need to bounce back.”

Arsenal were on top against Villa in the early stages but a sloppy second-half performance cost them dear, with substitute Leon Bailey and Ollie Watkins scoring late on.

Thousands of dispirited fans flooded out of the stadium before the full-time whistle, fearing Arsenal’s push for a first Premier League title since 2004 could have been fatally undermined.

But it is too early to draw definitive conclusions about a team that have looked robust until now, taking four points off both City and Liverpool this season.

Arteta urged his side not to lose heart, shifting the focus to Wednesday’s match in Germany.

“We knew that this moment could come,” he said. “Now it’s about reacting and keep believing and doing what we can.”

He added: “If you want to win championships, if you want to be there in the Champions League when you have these moments, you have to stand up.

“If not then that means you don’t have quality that is very necessary and right now is a big test for us.

“We have a beautiful opportunity, an opportunity that hasn’t happened at this club for 14 years to get to the semi-finals of the Champions League, so it cannot come in a better moment.”


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