It is fair to say that the Gunners could not have been handed a tougher tie than this one, and if they are to progress to the quarter-finals they are going to have to climb a huge mountain for this second time in this season’s competition. Arsene Wenger’s men were staring elimination in the face after they suffered shock defeats in their first two group games, but a huge home win over Bayern Munich was the catalyst for a superb recovery that saw them snatch a place in the knockout phase with a 3-0 victory away to Olympiakos.
But can they really get the better of Barcelona? If Arsenal are to advance in this competition they simply must win the home leg on Tuesday night, but talking about beating Barca and doing just that are two different things. The Catalan giants took their unbeaten run in all competitions to 32 games with a win at Las Palmas at the weekend – their 26th victory in this sensational sequence – and they have now tasted defeat in just one of their last 35 competitive outings.
Arsenal did pull off a shock 2-0 win over second-favourites Bayern Munich in the group stage while Barcelona won only one of their three away games in their group, so that will give Wenger’s men confidence that they can win this first leg. However, the bookmakers are not expecting repeat scenes and neither am I. Barca are in outstanding form and Arsenal’s recent home results have not been particularly awe-inspiring, with just two wins from their last five competitive games at the Emirates Stadium.
In the other match Bayern Munich battle it out with Juventus.
Based on form alone, the round of sixteen matchup between Bayern Munich and Juventus would have been best suited for a Champions League semis or finals. Outside of Juventus’ two month hiccup to begin the season, both Max Allegri and Pep Guardiola’s sides have dominated league play with their defined styles. Bayern Munich do go in as favorites as Guardiola teams not only win, but win loudly. It will be a shame for either sides to get knocked out this early, but that is a feature, not a bug, of the Champions League.
Both Max Allegri and Guardiola sides are distinguished by their innovative use of center midfielders, and this is where the battle over two legs will be won. Guardiola’s obsession with the position is well known, as he’s quoted as saying he would fill a squad with a 1,000 midfielders (or, more simply, to “put the good players in midfield”). Thiago Alcantara was signed from Barcelona for $30 million to be the hand picked conductor of Guardiola’s side. Arturo Vidal, although currently out of form, was the box to box link signed for $40 million last summer in a double move that temporarily weakened Juventus. Mario Gotze was signed for the same amount with a similar knock on effect on Borussia Dortmund.