Sunday 18 March 2018

Arsenal are a threat to everyone – Robben

Bayern winger expects Gunners to offer toughest test yet as clubs renew modern rivalry

Arjen Robben in training. Photo: Christof Stache/AFP/Getty Images
Arjen Robben in training. Photo: Christof Stache/AFP/Getty Images

Jason Burt

Arjen Robben is generous in his assessment of Arsenal - but his words come with a sting in the tail.

Of all the momentous meetings between the Londoners and Bayern Munich, this year's two-legged affair - which begins with tonight's collision in Germany - is, according to Robben, the first in which the Premier League club are "more dangerous".

This is the fourth season in five in which the clubs have been drawn in the Champions League, with Arsene Wenger's side winning just two of their six matches. The difference this year is that Bayern are playing the first leg at home, something which should, in theory, offer the visitors an advantage.

But then comes Robben's sting. "I don't see a problem with that. I'm always quite relaxed about it. If we don't concede, then I'm happy to go to London."

The message is clear: Bayern expect to score at the Emirates. And no wonder.

The ground has been a home from home in recent seasons, which may be one reason why Robben cuts such a relaxed figure as we chat in a side room at the club's Sabener Strasse complex, their leafy headquarters on the outskirts of Munich.

Arjen Robben
Arjen Robben


It helps that the German club have reached at least the semi-finals since 2010, the year that Arsenal last made the quarter-finals. But they were not Robben's preferred opponents this season. "I'd rather play Leicester," Robben says, laughing. "That would be different - not easier, or more difficult, just different."

In the event, Leicester were paired with Sevilla, although, given the English champions' freefall, they are probably not among the "seven or eight" whom Robben believes can realistically win the Champions League.

So, what of Wenger's men? "They have improved again compared to last year. This is maybe going to be the most difficult one because of their status at the moment. Their level has risen again. They are a threat to everybody. We are confident, but it's going to be a 50/50 one."

Bayern have never lacked self-confidence and this squad positively drip with experience.

"There are four, five players who are over 30," Robben says. "So, you have this experience in the team and we all know how to play. That's also what's special about the club. You need this core."

It is also why the 33-year-old recently signed a 12-month contract.

There had been some discussion that he might leave, but the Holland international did not even consider the mandatory big offer from China.

"The motivation is that I am at one of the biggest clubs in the world and I'm feeling very, very good," Robben says. "I've been here seven-and-a-half years. You come to a phase in your career when you are not so young any more. Of course, we've been thinking about it but I still want to play at the highest level and that's what I can do here.

"For me, there are not a lot of options. On this (Bayern), you cannot improve. There is not one club that will be one step higher. You have to decide for yourself: do you want to make one more last step, or are you happy?

"Every player here - and also every ex-player from Bayern - will say, 'Never leave the club'. If it's the same next year, then I can imagine renewing my contract again."

The Champions League may stir Robben's competitive juices like no other tournament, but it has not always been kind to him.

There have been some wounding semi-final defeats and, most agonisingly, he missed a penalty in extra-time against Chelsea in the final at the Allianz Arena in 2012.

Chelsea then won the shoot-out.

It was the third major cup final Robben had lost, after the 2010 World Cup final with Holland and the 2010 Champions League showpiece with Bayern. He had had enough. So, when he scored the late winning goal in the final at Wembley against Borussia Dortmund the following year, he spoke afterwards of his relief at dodging the "stamp of loser".

"You don't want to be remembered like someone who always reaches a final and was at such a good level but never won," Robben explains. "You need to win it at least once, so that was a big relief after losing two Champions League finals with Bayern. It's positive (to reach finals) but in the end it's about titles.

"Especially the third final. Afterwards, it's easy to say, 'I knew we were going to win it' but, no, it was like this feeling: one time, two times, OK but third time?

"The year before, in 2012, in your own stadium, with all the fans, losing the final in a dramatic way and then, the year after, to score the winner in the last minute . . . it was like a dream come true."

That dream has not been repeated. Jupp Heynckes left after that 2013 final to be replaced as manager by Pep Guardiola, who reached three successive semi-finals but could progress no further.

However, Robben is a fan of the Manchester City manager and believes he will succeed at his new club.

"In his third year, we were far more complete than in the first year," he explains. "I'm not worried about him at all. I know his philosophy. I know the way he thinks about football and I know the Premier League, so I know, it's very, very difficult.


"Every game is a new battle. But the thing I have seen a little at City is that you can already see his 'handwriting'. And that is very positive. You don't (generally) see that so quickly. And the way they are playing is maybe more attractive than before.

"He loves the game, he loves attacking football. He wants to have the ball, he wants to play and, for players, it's the best. I'm sure he will continue and I'm sure he will be successful."

Guardiola's successor, Carlo Ancelotti, is bringing his own ideas to Bayern, having won the Champions League three times as a coach - twice with AC Milan, once at Real Madrid. Do this Bayern team have to win it again?

"'Have' is a big word," Robben says. "'Have' is when you haven't won it before and you were two, three times that close, losing finals. But our biggest target is to win it again.

"We've got some older players - Philipp Lahm, Franck Ribery, Xabi Alonso - so we don't have a lot more chances. If we are in good shape as a team then we can beat any team in Europe." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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