Thomas Muller in action in last year's final
In the rehearsal of the draw for the Champions League last 16, English clubs Arsenal and Manchester United were paired with Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, respectively. There was a sense of disappointment that such a mouth-watering draw had cropped up in the rehearsal rather than the real thing.
Fortunately, fate was determined that these sides would meet, and when it came to the draw proper, the very same names were put together. Arsenal will face Bayern Munich for real, with the first leg taking place in London on February 19th.
Over the next few slides we take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of the German giants.
Bayern's Manuel Neuer
Bayern's game is more typically known for it's attacking power than defensive solidity, but you should not discredit their back line. In 18 Bundesliga games, they have conceded just seven league goals. It's a remarkable record. To put that in context, the next best defence in the German league belongs to Freiburg, and they've conceded 18 goals already.
In between the sticks, Manuel Neuer has recovered from a difficult start in which the fans struggled to accept his Schalke roots to become the natural successor to the great Oliver Kahn. His imposing frame is matched by his athleticism. He is still just 26—young for a goalkeeper—so it is frightening to think how good he could become.
The only fly in the defensive ointment is the injury to Holger Badstuber. Badstuber is unspectacular but very solid, and in his stead Jerome Boateng has not been able to provide the same degree of consistency. If there is a weak link to exploit, Boateng is certainly it.
Toni Kroos in action
Although Bastian Schweinsteiger is often pinpointed as the key man in Bayern's midfield, this season their team has been transformed by the emergence of his compatriot Toni Kroos as a world-class number 10. His touch, vision and powerful shooting have added a new dimension to what was already an impressive outfit.
However, it speaks volumes about the quality of Bayern's squad that Kroos may not even be their player of the season. One contender for that honour is Franck Ribery, who is showing signs of returning to his blistering form of 2007.
There is competition too from Thomas Muller. Deployed in an attacking midfield role, the young German has put his hard work and positional intelligence to good use, capping an excellent campaign with a goal of the season contender against Hamburg.
Bayern's midfield is littered with options, which makes them a daunting prospect for an Arsenal squad that generally are forced to rely on the same three faces to fill their midfield berths.
Bayern ended their Champions League group with 15 goals—the best tally out of any of the group winners. In the Bundesliga, the spoils have been shared by Thomas Muller and Mario Mandzukic, who have nine goals apiece.
Worryingly for Arsenal, Bayern's attacking options will only grow stronger. Arjen Robben and Mario Gomez, arguably their two most dangerous players in last season's impressive Champions League campaign, have yet to fully hit their stride this season. Once they do, the Bavarians may prove hard to stop.
A tricky tie for Arsene Wenger
Winning your group is no guarantee of facing an easy draw—just ask Manchester United—but having failed to win their group, Arsenal were always in danger. They might have hoped for Malaga or even PSG, but last year's finalists will provide a far sterner test.
Strong at the back and clinical upfront, Bayern Munich are rightly one of the favourites for this year's trophy. If Arsenal are to overcome them in the spring, they may need to dip in to the transfer market in January to reinforce their squad with the quality needed to compete with such impressive opponents.