Arsène Wenger believes Arsenal are better equipped now than they were earlier in the season to confront the runaway Bundesliga leaders, Bayern Munich, and force a passage into the Champions League quarter-finals and they will draw inspiration from their recent history before next week's last-16 tie.
Wenger will send his team out against Blackburn Rovers on Saturday afternoon in the fifth round of the FA Cup confident his players will not be distracted by the resumption of European competition on Tuesday. Thomas Vermaelen, who has not featured since the draw with Liverpool last month, will start against the Championship team to build up match fitness for the Bayern tie and Jack Wilshere and Laurent Koscielny should be involved in the squad after recent injury issues.
All will be in contention against Jupp Heynckes's team in what would appear a daunting contest, given that Bayern, last year's beaten finalists, are 15 points clear at the top of the Bundesliga and have not lost since 28 October. Indeed they have returned from a winter break refreshed and with four successive league wins as they await the summer arrival of Pep Guardiola. "That [winter rest] is an advantage for them, of course, and it may be one of the reasons they always go far if they go through the first round," said Wenger. "But I believe we have a chance to beat them and we have to take it.
"It's Bayern, so we'll have to be at our best but, when we went to Real Madrid [in 2006], they had Zidane, Beckham, Raúl, Guti and we still beat them over there at Madrid. We were fourth or fifth in the league at the time, so it's just down to us to believe we can do it. If we get past them, why should we not go further and win it?"
This is a very different Arsenal line-up these days, with only Theo Walcott and Abou Diaby from the match-day squad at the equivalent stage in the Bernabéu seven years ago still at the club. Yet Wenger is confident his team, currently fifth but unbeaten in five matches in all competitions, continues to improve and can compete for the Champions League, the FA Cup and a top-four finish. "We know now it's time when we can show how strong we are," he added. "I believe we are a stronger team than we were in October and November.
"We have more confidence and have Jack back at a good level. We know each other better. Overall we are more stable but I can talk and talk. We must show it on the football pitch. For now the players are focused on Blackburn completely. They know there is another opportunity there. If we go through we are in the quarter-finals and they don't want to miss out on that."
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