: Good afternoon. Dominic Fifield will be online from 1.45pm to take part in a live webchat.
These are testing times for Arsène Wenger. His team were knocked out of the League Cup by Bradford City, beaten in the FA Cup by Blackburn Rovers and they trail Manchester United by 21 points in the Premier League.
If Wenger is going to win his club a trophy this season, the Champions League is his only option. The pressure seems to be mounting on the Arsenal manager, who had some stern words for the assembled press yesterday.
In some ways it is difficult to see why Wenger has to defend himself. He has given the club Champions League football for over a decade and, as he suggested in yesterday's press conference, he will be "missed when he is gone". But those season tickets are expensive, his team has been regressing for years and he hasn't won anything since 2005.
Tonight's match could be pivotal in Arsenal's season and Wenger's career. Bayern Munich manager Jupp Heynckes defended the Arsenal manager yesterday and Bastian Schweinsteiger sounded wary of the threat posed by Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla, but Bayern are strong favourites to win the tie.
As Marcus Christenson pointed out in his preview of this week's Champions League fixtures, Bayern have been rampant this season and Arsenal are frustratingly inconsistent. It should be a fascinating encounter.
If you have any questions for Dominic, drop them into the comments section below.
Dominic is online answering questions. Jackdrone kicks things of: "Could this realistically be Wenger's last season at Arsenal?"
It could conceivably be his last season, yes. A scenario whereby there's a mutual parting of the ways at the end of the campaign doesn't feel quite so outlandish now, even if Wenger's plan remains – at present – to see out his contract, which runs until the summer of 2014.
The club's hierarchy are thinking along the same lines, it seems, and there is no plan for change. Indeed, Wenger believes this team will improve and become stronger, which might bode well for their prospects next term, and there is no player of a similar standing to Robin van Persie or Samir Nasri whose contract expiry will be approaching which might lead to disruption etc. Or, indeed, a Cesc Fabregas agitating for a move back to his boyhood club. So, in that respect, it might be a more settled summer to strengthen and attack the new campaign.
But those are the positives. The landscape might shift if Arsenal do not qualify for the Champions League and end the current season trophyless, and if hostility mounts up in the stands. Can a manager survive prolonged calls for change from the club's own support? The fans' reaction over the remainder of the season will be interesting, and may yet determine what happens in the summer. If the calls for change become more pronounced, and the disaffection spreads, then a parting of the ways a year early is not inconceivable.
EminEmma29 asks: "Do Arsenal stand a chance tonight and over the two legs? What would be the best back four available to try stop Bayern's offensive?"
Yes, they have a chance, but I'd suggest they have to emerge from the home leg with a lead, and they'll need some good fortune going their way in the match at the Allianz Arena given how wretched their away form is in the knock-out stage of this competition (seven defeats in eight matches, none of which have been won, stretching back to that giddy night in San Siro back in 2008).
On the positive side, Bayern have lost six of their last eight Champions League "round of 16" (Uefa speak) games, including at Arsenal back in 2005, so there is some hope yet.
Cianmulligan asks: "Could this be the last Champions League game at the Emirates for quite a while?"
It actually sounds quite shocking to consider that prospect, given what a permanent fixture Arsenal have been in the competition over the Wenger era. But that's the reality, yes, if Tottenham can't be caught in the Premier League and Arsenal don't go on and "do a Chelsea" in Europe.
I still have a suspicion Arsenal can rally in the Premier League over the remainder of the season, leaving Spurs fretting. Tottenham would feel more assured in fourth if they'd gone out and bought a striker in January, but the worry with them is that they're only ever a tweaked Gareth Bale knee ligament from a crisis, and their lead isn't large enough to relax, particularly given what happened last season.
But the problem with Arsenal is their inconsistency. Each time they look as if they're getting on a roll, they conjure a result like Saturday's against Blackburn Rovers and that merely sends them spiraling back to square one. Given the way the Premier League is going, that pursuit of fourth place, presumably between Spurs, Arsenal and Everton, does feel one of the more intriguing aspects of the run-in.
MirandaC asks: "Who is the referee? I suppose it's clutching at straws to think having a good one – or maybe a bad one – could make a difference, but I'll clutch at any straw that's going tonight. At least Koscielny is fit."
Svein Oddvar Moen of Norway. He's 33, apparently, and according to our paper today "has little Champions League experience". Hmmm.
BeadlesClaw asks: "Would Wenger be better off playing Walcott down the middle tonight, as Bayern's left-back is just as quick as him and he might have more luck against the centre-halves?"
I guess we're all clutching at straws a bit about Bayern's potential weaknesses, defensively, given that their recent record suggests they don't have any. To think a side can go through 11 top-flight away games, in a league as tough as the Bundesliga, and concede only once is... well... ridiculous. They've only shipped seven league goals all season, and none in their last five matches since they returned from the winter break. Indeed, there's another stat (so many stats) doing the rounds today that they've gone 400 minutes without even giving up a shot on target.
But Arsenal have to believe they can test them, even stretch them. There's a logic in trying Walcott through the middle, up against Daniel van Buyten and Dante, to see if he can get in behind the centre-backs and in on goal. That might be the easiest way, too, for Wenger to accommodate Podolski and Cazorla in his side, most likely with Wilshere in the middle of that three off the forward. Then Arteta might be flanked with, perhaps, Ramsey in a deeper brief (though Ramsey and Wilshere would potentially be interchangeable in those roles).
The victim of that line-up would be Giroud, of course, but he would remain an option to explore from the bench.
BobbyWestside asks: "Would changing the manager at Arsenal change anything? From the outside, their club culture seems to be about bringing through younger players (being cherry picked by bigger clubs is not the intended end goal). Wouldn't a new manager be put in the same position?"
Changing the manager would, definitely, change Arsenal though, as MirandaC has just pointed out, not necessarily for the better. I've always been of the opinion that Wenger deserves as much time as he wants at the club given his achievements over the first decade of his tenure but the reality is that, at present, it all feels a bit like stagnation.
Has Wenger adapted his own coaching and tactical approach, or even his scouting system, from the days when he was considered innovative and actually led the way? The evidence would suggest others – admittedly, mostly those who have benefited from rich benefactors or spent heavily en route – have overtaken Arsenal and their manager. So if there is a reluctance to change and the current methods are not yielding silverware, maybe the time has come to move on?
I doubt, however, if the ethos of the club would change overnight if Wenger departed. I can't see Arsenal suddenly going out under a new manager and spending £200m on six players to revamp the team in the blink of an eye. One of the reasons there is such support within the boardroom, after all, is the reality that Wenger makes the club money with his unique approach to the game.
Shongololo wants to take issue with the Guardian's coverage of yesterday's press conference: "The article included lots of hysterical stuff about how 'furious' he was and a link to the video, which revealed at worst a brief degree of mild irritation. It's bizarre that the Guardian would try and characterise Wenger's disposition with tabloid-like hyperbole and then include the video of said 'meltdown' which patently demonstrates nothing of the sort. Strange."
I wasn't at London Colney yesterday, so I cannot really gauge his mood in the separate newspaper briefing that followed the broadcast section of the proceedings. Speaking to colleagues who were there, it does seem as if he was furious and that will have contrasted markedly with his customary demeanour at press conferences.
Sam Wallace put it nicely in the Independent this morning: "Wenger, a man more likely to serve his players chips and lager than to get in a public row with the press. The same press whose efforts he usually treats with the good-humoured detachment of a charismatic schoolteacher presiding over a class of unremarkable students".
Danny Taylor, who was there, suggested it was the "spikiest press conference" of his time at Arsenal, which seems about right.
Shravan asks: "Some German fans are saying Bayern have not fared that well in their 'big games' this season (against Leverkusen and Dortmund). How much credence do we give to that? And what will it take for this Arsenal team start well, rather than only turning up once they are two goals behind in the second half?"
What will it take for Arsenal to start well? Maybe Wenger losing his cool in a pre-match press conference? Perhaps that will drive them on (although that sounds a bit too old school for Wenger, obviously...).
It's hard to gauge whether Bayern can be made to look ordinary tonight because they have simply steamrollered all-comers back home this season, and they have special motivation in the Champions League given events against Chelsea last May. But if Arsenal do not fly at them tonight, trying to turn that miserly backline, then the tie can surely only go one way.
The significance of this occasion won't be lost on anyone. The home side have to deliver a statement tonight. If they don't, the crowd will turn, the manager will appear even more isolated, and the season will teeter on the brink yet again.
Giftedbutlazee asks: "Do you think that Bayern are chokers? They were runners-up in three competitions last season."
That accusation could have been flung at them back in May, when Munich was a city in shock after the European Cup final. But they've reacted to those failings and nothing about their form (or position) suggests they're chokers now.
I guess the proof will be in the run-in, but they should have the Bundesliga settled early and, for now, they can concentrate on all things European Cup. Marcus Christenson wrote a good piece on Bayern's reaction to coming so close last season in the Observer.
MrMondypops asks: "Why was Wenger's outburst yesterday labelled as him passionately fighting back, but had it been Kevin Keegan or Rafa Benitez doing it, it would have been labelled as a meltdown?"
In fairness, it has been labelled a "meltdown" in plenty of places this morning, but much will depend upon what happens next.
Personally, I thought Wenger looked rattled yesterday. For him to spend so much time bemoaning questions about the Blackburn defeat and insisting it was a pre-match press conference ahead of Bayern Munich, and then to go on and insist he didn't want to answer questions about Bayern Munich at this time, rang ridiculous. Likewise, it seemed a bit odd to pick out a journalist from the Daily Mail about a story that appeared in the Sun, but there you go. Maybe it was all a case of mind games and he was seeking to distract all present from his team's shortcomings, or the fragile form of some of his key players.
Sujay7pires asks: "People keep talking about heavy investment and signing of star names, but this Munich team is very similar to last season's. Why do you think they have come out all guns blazing this season?"
Again, I'd refer you back to Marcus' piece on Bayern's response to the loss to Chelsea. They have strengthened cleverly, with Javi Martinez an expensive recruit (£34m) from Athletic Bilbao, Dante a shrewd addition from Borussia Moenchengladbach, Xherdan Shaqiri offering an injection of pace and Mario Madzukic an inspired arrival from Wolfsburg. Those are significant changes, but I suspect the core of what remains a strong club are more focused than ever to make amends for their near-misses last time around.
Shootmyidea asks: "Is the media's coverage of Arsenal always harsher than other teams? If Arsenal concede a sloppy goal, the lines about 'same old defensive problems' are written, yet when other teams concede goals that are error-ridden it's almost passed off and accepted. With Arsenal it's always linked to the bigger underlying problems. Does that media pressure affect the team?"
I did a webchat on Chelsea earlier this season – I think it was ahead of the Juventus game – and was asked virtually the same question. I don't think Arsenal are treated harsher than other teams. However, I do think there's an element of Arsene Wenger being a victim of his own success over the first decade of his time in England. As he pointed out yesterday, the reason the defeats to Bradford and Blackburn stood out so prominently was the fact that he had never previously lost to lower league opposition in this country.
Likewise, when Arsenal find themselves labouring on the fringes of the title race – and now on the fringes of the Champions League places – it is inevitable that people ask what has changed from the days when they competed every year with Manchester United for honours at the top of the Premier League.
Fifth place in the top flight, and out of the domestic cup competitions, feels like under-achievement in the context of everything he's achieved in the past. It might actually be a true reflection of precisely where Arsenal are at present, but Wenger set his standards higher.
SarfLunden asks: "Does the board's reluctance to release money or Wenger's reluctance to pay over the odds on transfer fees and wages explain the current lack of strength with the squad?"
You hear both theories suggested. I suspect the truth might lie somewhere in between. Wenger won't be prepared to pay over the odds, including on wages, for players in what has become an inflated market at the top end of the scale.
The board would suggest there is money there to be spent, but we've never really tested what that actually means. Do they possess the funds to sign a player for £40m and pay him £180,000 a week? We've never had that tested, probably, because Wenger instinctively would be reluctant to go down that road.
There is, of course, an imbalance in all this when one considers that squad players at Arsenal – Bendtner, Djourou, Chamakh (still on the books), Arshavin etc – are on relatively colossal wages in comparison to their status within the first-team set-up.
Jalfreziboy manages to include the word spanking without going off-topic: "Do you have a nervousness about tonight's game like I do? The fear of a public spanking?"
For Arsenal? Hopefully not for me. No, I think Arsenal might rise to the occasion tonight and it will be tight (famous last words, I know). It's actually the away leg that worries me more.
Noteffinglikely asks: "Will we see Podolski (who has been absent for two games) tonight? When Arsenal have been at their best, he's been in the side. Whether or not he's directly responsible for that is debatable, but his workrate must weigh in favour of his inclusion. Also, does Giroud sit for a more defensive alignment or will we see him as well?"
I'd suggest Giroud on the bench, with Walcott up front and a trio of Cazorla, Wilshere and Podolski behind him. Ramsey (in preference to Diaby) and Arteta sitting deeper. I would be amazed if Podolski, who will presumably have his own point to prove to Bayern, does not start the game.
Singleentedre asks: "A lot was made of the contrasting press conferences held by Ferguson and Mourinho before the Real Madrid v Man United clash last week, with José being a bit flat (and, ultimately, so were his team). With all this in mind, what do you think the players will be making of Wenger's uncharacteristic performance yesterday?"
By all accounts, Mikel Arteta looked distinctly uncomfortable at Wenger's side while he sounded off. The players, like us, will be as used to seeing the manager deal with the press in his usual way so it must have come as a bit of a surprise. The hope is Wenger will be as fired up in his pre-match address to his team to instill a reaction in them.
DisabledCubicle asks: "Could this year's annual collapse have been averted if Arsenal had signed the holding midfielder and striker they clearly need? I'm imagining the differences that Lewis Holtby could have made from the bench or Demba Ba could have asserted against lower-league defences."
It's remarkable that the only player Arsenal secured in January was a left-back – albeit a very good one who was on the radar anyway – right on the deadline, and that move was only brought forward from next summer because Kieran Gibbs had suffered an injury. And therein lies the frustration.
Ba and Holtby had been tracked and linked, but neither materialised as they secured moves elsewhere. Zaha is another, for all that Wenger suddenly and rather mystifyingly declared there'd been no interest. The reality is other clubs came in and made the deals happen. If Arsenal don't finish fourth, that will be seen as the difference. Inevitably.
Dominic has signed off:
Right, afraid I'm scarpering now. Thanks for all your questions, and enjoy the game. Sense it will be tighter than people might expect this evening, maybe even with a narrow home success to improve the mood. Whether that'd be enough to get through into the quarter-finals is another matter. Thanks all. Enjoy.
We have plenty more on the football site today, including the first piece in our new series Football From The Inside, in which Norwegian football scout and executive Tor-Kristian Karlsen writes about the role of agents in the game.
Simon Burnton has compiled a list of infamous football press conferences in light of the talking-to Arsene Wenger gave sportswriters yesterday. And Football Weekly reviews the weekend's FA Cup action and previews this week's Champions League games.