MUNICH // Bayern Munich manager Carlo Ancelotti has backed under-fire Arsene Wenger to lead Arsenal out of their slump, despite their “sensational” 5-1 Uefa Champions League thrashing in Germany.
Wenger’s 20-year reign as Arsenal manager is under pressure after their mauling at Thiago Alcantara-inspired Bayern.
The Gunners had few answers to the hosts’ second-half display at the Allianz Arena and face an uphill battle for the last-16, second-leg tie on March 7.
But Ancelotti says the Frenchman has the experience to pull Arsenal out of the mire as they stare down the barrel of a seventh last-16 exit in consecutive seasons.
“This is football, Arsene has the experience to manage this result and move forward – this is only one game,” said Ancelotti, who oversaw his 148th European game.
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After Alex Ferguson, who managed in 198 Champions League matches, Wenger has the second-highest number of European games under his belt with 183.
Bayern extended their Champions League record to 16 home wins by flooring the London side with three goals in ten second-half minutes.
Arjen Robben gave Bayern the lead after 10 minutes with a curling shot from outside the area.
Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez equalised when he drilled home a penalty at the second attempt as it finished 1-1 at the break.
But Bayern hit top gear after the interval.
Robert Lewandowski restored the lead with a powerful header before Thiago added two more in a devastating 10-minute spell.
Thomas Muller came off the bench for Lewandowski to net their fifth two minutes from time to complete Arsenal’s misery.
Ancelotti hailed it as Bayern’s best performance since he replaced Pep Guardiola as manager this season.
He proclaimed Thiago’s magnificent 90 minutes in the attacking midfield role as “perfect”.
“Thiago played really well, we put him in the position between their lines. It meant he closed them down and gave us more space,” Ancelotti said.
“His performance was really good – he was perfect.
“It’s the best performance since I have been here, but it’s not the final, we still have another game – unfortunately.”
The Italian said the focus is now on completing the job in the second leg, which would see Bayern knock Arsenal out in the last 16 for the fourth time.
“The result was really important and we have the advantage, but we don’t want to make a mistake,” Ancelotti said.
“We want to play like we did tonight with the same intensity, the same spirit and the same tempo, because we don’t want to give ourselves problems.”
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The result matched the 5-1 group-stage thrashing Arsenal received in Munich in November 2015 – the club’s joint record away defeat in Europe.
Robben also conceded he was surprised by the margin. “Things worked very well,” the Dutch winger said.
“I am a bit surprised that we played so well, but on the other hand, I know the team has great character and can move up a gear when it matters.”
Bayern’s captain Philipp Lahm, who like Xabi Alonso, will retire in June, said the first-leg result should be enough to reach the quarter-finals for the sixth year in a row.
“Before the penalty, we were very good, then not very good until half time, but sensational after that,” said Lahm, who is suspended for the second leg after a booking.
“We used our quality in terms of possession and created the goals at the right time.
“A 5-1 should be enough for the return leg.”
The brutal domination of Bayern’s second-half display left Chile midfielder Arturo Vidal dreaming of the Cardiff final on June 3.
“It would be a dream to win the Champions League,” said Vidal, who lost the 2015 final with Juventus against Barcelona.
* Agence France-Presse
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