It looks every bit like a mismatch that could get ugly, but there is something about the Bayern Munich-Arsenal Champions League Round of 16 match-up that suggest it could wind up being far more competitive than anyone could imagine.
On paper it should be a romp. Bayern Munich enters the series looking unstoppable, having torn through the Bundesliga, and their Champions League group with ease. Suffocating opponents with a relentless attack and organized defense, Bayern has slowly but surely climbed to the level of true Champions League title contender based on their imposing form.
Then you have Arsenal, limping into the series off another embarrassing cup exit, most recently an FA Cup defeat against Blackburn. The Gunners are in fifth place in the English Premier League and in danger of finishing without a trophy for the eighth straight year. Arsenal Wenger is lashing out at critics who question his standing as Arsenal manager and there are growing questions about whether he should remain the team’s boss.
You can’t write the Gunners off completely. They still have some young attacking stars in Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere, and a history of stepping their game up in the Champions League.
In Tuesday’s other Round of 16 clash, Portuguese power FC Porto take on Spanish side Malaga in a battle featuring some of Europe’s top attacking talent. The Colombian tandem of Jackson Martinez and James Rodriguez are one of the most exciting duos in Europe and lead the Porto attack, while Spanish striker Isco is the star of a Malaga attack that also features veterans Javier Saviola and Roque Santa Cruz.
Here is a closer look at today’s UEFA Champions League Round of 16 matches:
ARSENAL vs. BAYERN MUNICH
2:45pm, Fox Soccer Channel
Players to Watch: ARSENAL- Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta, Laurent Koscielny. BAYERN MUNICH- Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben, Mario Gomez, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Manuel Neuer.
Quick Kicks: These teams last met in the 2004/2005 Champions League Round of 16. Bayern won the series on aggregate in the strength of two Claudio Pizarro goals. Defender Laurent Koscielny remains a question mark for Arsenal due to illness while newly-acquired left back Nacho Monreal is cap-tied and unable to play. Fullback Kieran Gibbs is also out for Arsenal. Jerome Boateng is suspended for Bayern, while Holger Badstuber ( knee injury) and Claudio Pizarro (sick) will also miss the match.
PORTO vs. MALAGA
2:45pm, MSG+, Fox Soccer Plus
Players to Watch: PORTO- Jackson Martinez, James Rodriguez, Joao Moutinho, Lucho Gonzalez, Silvestre Varela. MALAGA- Isco, Roque Santa Cruz, Javier Saviola, Welligton, Lucas Piazon.
Quick Kicks: Porto is riding a 32-match unbeaten streak in Portuguese League play, a stretch that spans more than a calendar year and has them in line for another Portuguese title. Malaga currently sit in fourth place in the Spanish Primera, winners of three of their past four matches. Belgian midfield Steven Defour is out with a thigh injury for Porto while Eliseu is sidelined with a knee injury for Malaga.