Arsenal v Bayern Munich: With the result decided, focus remains on the Alexis Sanchez saga

Richard Jolly previews the Uefa Champions League last-16 second leg tie between Arsenal and Bayern Munich.

Alexis Sanchez pictured shaking hands with Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger during training on Monday. Glyn Kirk / AFP
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Uefa Champions League, Round of 16, second leg: Arsenal (1) v Bayern Munich (5), Emirates Stadium, kick-off 11.45pm (UAE)

It is a strange state of affairs when the search for meaning in a Uefa Champions League knockout tie is concentrated on the teamsheet, rather than the outcome.

That, it seems, is already determined. Bayern Munich will be quarter-finalists. Arsenal, for the seventh successive year, will exit at the Round of 16 stage. As no team has ever recovered from a four-goal first-leg deficit to advance at this stage of the competition, Arsenal almost certainly will not overturn Bayern’s 5-1 advantage.

They came close in similar circumstances in 2012, beating AC Milan 3-0 at home after a 4-0 loss in Italy, but the last team to find the Bayern net four times were Barcelona, 143 games and almost three years ago. In short, Arsenal are embarking on their usual face-saving, damage-limitation exercise to leave them lamenting first-leg failures again.


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Which brings a different emphasis. The likeliest man to condemn Bayern to defeat over 90 minutes, if not 180, is Alexis Sanchez. The Chilean’s unexpected demotion to the bench for Saturday’s 3-1 defeat at Liverpool has brought a focus on the future of a coveted footballer whose contract expires in 2018 and who is yet to sign a new deal.

Wenger refuted reports of training-ground arguments between Sanchez and teammates, which he called “completely false” and described his relationship with his top scorer as “honest and normal, like it is with every player.” Sanchez shook Wenger’s hand in training, yet the Frenchman declined to say if he will return to the starting side.

“I haven’t decided yet,” he said. For many, the rationale for a recall is compelling. Sanchez may be the only Arsenal player who would get in the Bayern side. He has scored 11 goals in his last 14 Premier League games, was, along with goalkeeper David Ospina, their best player in Bavaria and marked his introduction at Anfield by improving Arsenal and setting up Danny Welbeck’s goal.

His initial omission was ostensibly to play a more direct style of play to suit Olivier Giroud, a tactic Wenger admitted failed. Perhaps the purist will argue a long-ball game is required against Bayern too. It would be an unconvincing argument.

If the sight of Sanchez among the substitutes would seem confirmation that Arsenal’s finest player since Robin van Persie is on his way in the summer, Wenger insisted otherwise.

“Alexis Sanchez has 15 months on his contract so the decision on whether he will be there will depend on Arsenal Football Club, not anyone else,” he said, suggesting a distinctly awkward season beckons next year before Arsenal could lose a £35 million (Dh157.8m) signing on a free transfer. “Football is down to more than just one player.”

His argument that it is not just about the individual included an attempt to illustrate that Arsenal’s fortunes do not depend on the Copa America winner. With Sanchez starting, he said: “We lost at Chelsea. We lost at [Manchester] City.”

Yet that also underlined Arsenal’s mediocre record against elite opponents which is both part of their problem and, seemingly, of Sanchez’s frustration.

“He is a committed player and sometimes has excessive behaviours but you have that in every squad,” Wenger argued.

It seems to irritate him that Sanchez has been exonerated amid the inquests into Arsenal’s struggles in defining fixtures. Mesut Ozil certainly has not been but Arsenal’s other resident superstar definitely will not feature in the rematch.

Illness kept him out of the loss at Anfield and the World Cup winner’s comeback should come against Lincoln in the FA Cup.

“Ozil is not in the squad,” Wenger said. “I think he will be ready for the weekend.” His absence means that, once again, all eyes will be on Sanchez.

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