ESPN FC: Their own worst enemy
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has played down the significance of his personal duel with Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola ahead of the Champions League last-16 tie at Emirates Stadium on Wednesday.
Wenger has been involved in a testy exchange of words with Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho in recent days, but he has looked to distance his own importance to Arsenal’s success by suggesting the tacticians are secondary to the players on the field.
“The main heroes are on the pitch, not on the bench,” Wenger said. “If you look at the history of the Champions League, you will see it is always the big players who make a difference. After [a game] the analysis is always adapted to the team that wins, but most of the time it is the big players who make the difference on the pitch.
“Football is not a chess game [between managers]. It belongs to the players when the game starts, do they make the right decisions on the pitch. We as manager prepare for teams to do well, we take responsibility when it doesn’t go well, but the main heroes are on the pitch, not on the bench.
"With the quality of the players on the pitch on both sides, it’s nearly impossible to play without style. All the quality players are exceptionally gifted people and they will produce a quality game.”
Wenger is convinced his team are equipped to take on reigning European champions Bayern this time, as he is sure the mindset of his team is different than it was a year ago as Bayern won convincingly at Emirates Stadium.
“We always had quality [in our team], but not always the belief,” Wenger said. “Belief is built by results and on that front we are stronger, of course. I am sure we will do well.
“We face the favourite of the competition and what we have is big belief. We have only had big games in the Champions League and FA Cup and from the start of the season, we have known in every single game we have absolutely to be 100 percent.
“We know we can do it, but that is down to the quality of our performance. Every minute counts in a game of this stature. We are conscious of that and try to start very strong. We have had our own strength recently and that is we don’t give goals away. That will be vitally important in this tie.”
Wenger is backing his central defensive duo of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny to shine against Bayern, as he believes the duo have given Arsenal a steely quality that was lacking in his side for a long period.
“Mertesacker and Koscielny complement each other well,” he added. “They play a lot of games together now and that helps as well. The have thrown through statistics that they are a very reliable pair in the centre of the defence. It is a good opportunity to show it tomorrow against a team with very strong offensive potential.”
Wenger has no fresh injury worries ahead of the Bayern Munich game, but Tomas Rosicky is fit to return to the squad after injury. Spanish midfielder Mikel Arteta misses the first leg of the tie through suspension.