London: Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has ridden out periods of turbulence in what is certain to be eight successive trophyless seasons of domestic disappointment but the heat is back on when Bayern Munich visit in the Champions League on Tuesday. The Frenchman, whose furrowed brow added a line or two after Arsenal were dumped out of the FA Cup by second-tier Blackburn Rovers on Saturday, has called on his side to stand up and be counted when they face the runaway Bundesliga leaders in a last 16 first-leg tie.
Arsenal were booed off after the home fifth round-defeat by Blackburn, completing a Cup exit double at the hands of lower league opposition after a shock Capital One (League Cup) quarter-final loss to fourth-tier Bradford. Out of contention in the Premier League and with only a Champions League place to play for, Wenger needs a big performance against Bayern to quieten the doubters.
"It is a good opportunity to show that we have character and are men who can fight for each other. That is all you can do," Wenger said. You take a distance in terms of what people say and show how strong and good you are in the next game. If we feel sorry for ourselves we would be completely wrong. We have a massive game on Tuesday night and we have to show that we some response in the team."
Arsenal have lost in the last 16 in the last two seasons and face a Bayern side cruising towards the Bundesliga title having won 18 of 22 league games. Friday's 2-0 victory at VfL Wolfsburg was their fourth successive win with Mario Mandzukic, joint top scorer of the league, again on target for his 15th goal of the season.
Mandzukic looks set to start against Arsenal, with Mario Gomez again left on the bench. The Croatian's form has been a blessing, with Gomez out for months following ankle surgery in August. He is also unfazed by media reports saying Bayern are close to signing Borussia Dortmund top scorer Robert Lewandowski for next season.
The only minor discord in the Bayern camp is Arjen Robben's dissatisfaction with his current substitute role. Robben came on late against Wolfsburg and drilled in Bayern's second goal in stoppage time, before demanding to start against Arsenal.
"I do not see any reason why I should not play against Arsenal," he told reporters. "These are the super games you want to play."
The Dutch winger also vented his frustration with his playing time under coach Jupp Heynckes.
"I really want to play. I have been more hopeful in the past. I am not happy. I was on the bench again and that is disappointing. The goal was good but nothing more," he said.
Heynckes, who will make way for Pep Guardiola at the end of the season, has denied there was any growing tension with the player Bayern will be without suspended Jerome Boateng and injured Holger Badstuber and Claudio Pizarro, but can again count on midfielder Javi Martinez, who should be fit for the game after training on Sunday following a minor injury.
"Arsenal have found their rhythm again in the last few weeks," Heynckes said. They look sharper up front. We should not underestimate them. They are improving and that is a real danger for us."