Re­demp­tion for Arse­nal be­gins with Bay­ern

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - JUSTIN PALMER

For Arsene Wenger, the out­come of Arse­nal’s Cham­pi­ons League show­down with Bay­ern Mu­nich could well be make or break for one of the long­est-serv­ing man­agers in Euro­pean soc­cer.

The French­man will not say so, of course, but af­ter 20 years in charge at Arse­nal spec­u­la­tion is grow­ing over his fu­ture at the Premier League club.

That spec­u­la­tion in­creased last week when for­mer Arse­nal striker Ian Wright said Wenger had told him his time at the club was “com­ing to the end.”

Wenger said he was mis­in­ter­preted and as­sured Arse­nal fans that he is “not ready” to walk away.

But with his team plagued by in­con­sis­tency in the Premier League and seem­ingly out of the ti­tle race again — Arse­nal has not won the English ti­tle since 2004 — Wenger will hope that a deep run in the Cham­pi­ons League can pro­vide some spark to its sea­son.

Bay­ern stands in his and Arse­nal’s way, how­ever.

Arse­nal has not been past the last 16 in the con­ti­nent’s top club com­pe­ti­tion since 2009-10. The teams, who play the first leg in Mu­nich on Wed­nes­day, have met six times in the last four years, with Bay­ern rout­ing the Gun­ners 5-1 in Ger­many in their last meet­ing.

“Yes, we’ve had bad ex­pe­ri­ences against them,” Wenger said. “But I feel that this is a good op­por­tu­nity.

“We have won there be­fore and we play the first game away from home, so it’s im­por­tant we pro­tect the sec­ond game be­cause I feel that to have a chance to qual­ify in the sec­ond leg, that will be very im­por­tant. We go there not high, but to de­fend well as a team.”

Wenger’s con­tract at Arse­nal runs out at the end of the sea­son and he has yet to agree to a new deal amid in­creas­ing dis­con­tent among fans at the team’s fail­ure to mount a strong ti­tle chal­lenge. Arse­nal, in third place, is 10 points be­hind leader Chelsea.

That dis­con­tent was no doubt height­ened when the 67-year-old Wenger told Arse­nal fans last month to act more like sup­port­ers of ri­val Tot­ten­ham, urg­ing the red half of north Lon­don “to be united.”

Arse­nal is set for another top­four league fin­ish and is still in the FA Cup, but to over­come Ger­man cham­pion Bay­ern, Wenger will need play­maker Me­sut Ozil to snap out of his poor run of form.

“I felt he did not feel con­fi­dent (against Hull),” Wenger said of the Ger­man in­ter­na­tional af­ter the 2-0 win over Hull on Satur­day. “It’s al­ways a prob­lem be­cause you think he can de­liver some­thing spe­cial but it’s true that tech­ni­cally he missed things that he is not used to.”

It is not just Ozil of whom ques­tions are be­ing asked, es­pe­cially af­ter the back-to-back losses to Wat­ford and Chelsea that pre­ceded the vic­tory over Hull.

Af­ter the 3-1 loss to Chelsea, for­mer Arse­nal great Thierry Henry said Wenger’s job was “com­pli­cated” be­cause of the side’s fragility against top teams.

“What I saw against Chelsea is a men­tal prob­lem. I don’t want to go into de­tails but that is why Arsene’s job is very com­pli­cated, be­cause it is a men­tal prob­lem,” Henry said. “And it’s not easy to man­age.”

RUI VIEIRA, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Arsene Wenger is look­ing for a deep run in the Cham­pi­ons League to sal­vage Arse­nal’s sea­son.

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