Since the group stages, Bayern and Arsenal have taken opposite trajectories. In the EPL, Arsenal have fallen 10 points behind Chelsea, while Bayern have reasserted themselves in the Bundesliga and are now seven points ahead of RB Leipzig.
With Arsene’s future at the Emirates uncertain, this tie has bigger implications than a repeat of annual Arsenal memes. Make it past Bayern, and Arsenal can rewrite their typical script. Lose, and Wenger’s departure will feel likelier than ever.
Arsene has hinted that he’s realistically looking to escape Munich with a chance for survival, not necessarily a statement win. Looking ahead to the first leg, Wenger said, “It’s important that we protect the second game. We must go there, not hide, but defend well as a team.” Infamously, Arsenal haven’t made it past this stage since 2009-10 (twice being knocked out by Bayern), so his pragmatism isn’t unwarranted.
Since Bayern lost 3-2 at FC Rostov in November, they’ve gone undefeated, winning 10 of 11. Arsenal probably won’t break that streak, but they don’t need to - a determined performance that gives them a chance for the return tie in London would be enough.
Bayern last won the Champions League in 2013 and have since watched the trophy stay in Spain for three straight years, despite Pep leading them to four straight Bundesliga titles and the German national team atop international football. New manager Carlo Ancelotti’s charge is clear - get the Champions League trophy back to Munich. They’re bolstered by the additions of former Dortmund captain Mats Hummels and the Euros’ breakout young star, Renato Sanches. After losing in the semi-finals last year on away goals to Atletico Madrid, the German giants will be motivated to get back on top.
With Shkodran Mustafi and Lucas Perez coming in to cover long term deficits at center back and forward, Arsene Wenger has no excuses left. While getting out of their group in the Champions League is now routine, the Gunners have exited in the second round for six consecutive years. Much like their EPL title drought, there is a perception that Arsenal are in a rut - incredibly talented, but struggling to reach the heights you’d expect from a squad of their talent. With this being the final year of Wenger’s contract, however, perhaps there will be a sense that being very good is no longer good enough.
Equal parts bruiser and magician, Vidal won Serie A in each of his four seasons at Juventus.
Scored 42 goals in all competitions last season and began the new Bundesliga season with a hat trick.