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Arsenal's defence must hold firm

Robert Woodward in London | March 08, 2005 18:24 IST
Last Updated: March 08, 2005 18:25 IST


Arsenal's leaky defence must somehow repel Bayern Munich on Wednesday if they are to avoid yet another Champions League disappointment.

The London side have been shorn of injured centre back Sol Campbell since February 1 and without him they have looked suspect at the back, conceding three goals in the first leg of the first knockout round tie in Munich.

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A late goal by Kolo Toure gave Arsenal a glimmer of hope -- a 3-1 deficit means they can win 2-0 at Highbury and progress -- yet they are a shadow of the side which went through the last league season unbeaten.

There are few in English soccer outside the Arsenal dressing room who believe the home side can survive 90 minutes against a well-organised Bayern team without conceding a goal, even if the Germans will be without injured striker Roy Makaay.

Arsenal, who have never gone beyond the quarter-finals of Europe's top club competition, strolled past Portsmouth 3-0 on Saturday thanks to a hat-trick from Thierry Henry who was only fitfully involved in the first leg against Bayern.

The Arsenal defence looked shaky in the early stages against Portsmouth and Campbell's replacement Pascal Cygan was injured. Despite the obvious problems, manager Arsene Wenger remains confident.

"Wednesday's game will be more about mental strength. We must regroup, relax and show resilience," said Wenger.

"I'm sure we can do it."

The loss of Makaay, who has scored seven goals in the Champions League this season, with a hamstring strain is certainly a blow for Bayern.

The good news though is the return of playmaker Michael Ballack, who missed the first leg with a thigh injury.

The Germany captain scored the winner against Werder Bremen at the weekend in what was another ultra-professional performance.

Bayern have not conceded a goal since the first leg against Arsenal and a key contributor to that defensive stability has been Martin Demichelis.

SOLID DEFENCE

The Argentine originally came in as a replacement for Ballack but his performances were so good that coach Felix Magath has had to make space for him since Ballack's return.

"With [goalkeeper] Oliver Kahn, Lucio, Robert Kovac and Demichelis, we look so solid in the centre it's become very difficult scoring against us," Magath said.

The absence of Makaay may persuade the coach to deploy a five-man midfield on Wednesday, with Claudio Pizarro, scorer of two goals in the first leg, on his own up front.

Bixente Lizarazu is also struggling with injury, so Hasan Salihamidzic is likely to slot back into defence, with Sebastian Deisler and Ze Roberto coming into midfield.

Probable teams:

Arsenal: 1-Jens Lehmann; 12-Lauren, 20-Philippe Senderos, 28-Kolo Toure, 3-Ashley Cole; 8-Fredrik Ljungberg, 57-Francesc Fabregas, 4-Patrick Vieira, 16-Mathieu Flamini; 14-Thierry Henry, 10-Dennis Bergkamp

Bayern Munich: 1-Oliver Kahn; 2-Willy Sagnol, 3-Lucio, 5-Robert Kovac, 20-Hasan Salihamidzic; 26-Sebastian Deisler, 8-Torsten Frings, 6-Martin Demichelis, 13-Michael Ballack, 11-Ze Roberto; 14-Claudio Pizarro

Referee: Massimo De Santis (Italy)

 


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