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Arsenal vs. Bayern Munich: Prediction and Key Battles for Champions League Clash

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 19:  Thomas Mueller  and Bastian Schweinsteiger of Bayern Muenchen applaud the fans after the UEFA Champions League round of 16 first leg match between Arsenal and Bayern Muenchen at Emirates Stadium on February 19, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Tom SunderlandFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 2, 2017

In a repeat of their epic encounter last season, Arsenal and Bayern Munich have once again been drawn opposite one another in the Champions League round of 16.

Leaders of the Premier League and Bundesliga, respectively, the two clubs have only improved since last year's meeting.

Bayern have benefited from the fresh approach of Pep Guardiola, who has turned them into a passing machine with Philipp Lahm the surprise pivot in midfield.

The Gunners, meanwhile, have added the likes of £42.5 million talent Mesut Ozil, although CNN's Tancredi Palmeri insists their packed early 2014 schedule is now reason enough to make moves in the January transfer window:

With two clubs of tradition and extreme European prominence down the years, this season's encounter promises to be even more intense than the last, with the Gunners this time a genuine threat to the reigning European champions.

 

Key Battles 

Aaron Ramsey vs. Toni Kroos

Two young midfielders currently going through grand ascension in their respective surroundings, the battle of Aaron Ramsey and Toni Kroos will be one of contrasting styles.

This time last year, the pair couldn't have been any further apart in terms of individual squad recognition. Kroos ran the show as Bayern tore Arsenal apart at the Emirates, while Ramsey was a much maligned figure among Gunners fans.

However, fast-forward nearly 12 months, and Ramsey's rise to prominence means the gulf in class is not so wide.

Ramsey has netted 10 goals for his team, two of which have come in Europe, to ensure Bayern will have more to fear from the ex-Cardiff man in this year's competition.

Both Ramsey and Kroos are regarded as box-to-box talents, meaning there isn't any particular area of the pitch where it would be impossible to imagine these two doing battle. Kroos is the silkier player, capable of stroking the ball around, but Ramsey's intelligent running this term has transformed Arsenal's midfield.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 14:  Aaron Ramsey of Arsenal in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Arsenal at Etihad Stadium  on December 14, 2013 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Come February, we'll have a greater sense of whether Ramsey is on his way to becoming the real deal, but Arsenal will certainly feel confident of proving a better match for Bayern's midfield this time. 

 

Mesut Ozil vs. Javi Martinez

ST ALBANS, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 10:  Mesut Ozil during an Arsenal training session ahead of their UEFA Champions League group F match against Napoli at London Colney on December 10, 2013 in St Albans, England.  (Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images)
Scott Heavey/Getty Images

Mesut Ozil's return to Germany is bound to be a microscopically analysed aspect of this showdown. Although it depends largely upon Guardiola's wealth of midfield options, Javi Martinez looks a likely choice to anchor against the former Werder Bremen star.

According to Squawka, Ozil has created at least 13 more chances than any Arsenal player in the Premier League this season. Presuming the Gunners don't sign another striker in January, Olivier Giroud will be the man trying to get on the end of them.

Martinez started the season injured but has since come back into Guardiola's engine room. He's been playing mostly in his preferred deep-lying role, sitting just in front of his defence, the exact area in which Ozil will look to open up and exploit. 

Bayern's strength is undoubtedly through the middle, so it would be no surprise if Wenger opts to use Ozil wide in order to drag players like Martinez out of position.

 

Bacary Sagna vs. Franck Ribery

By the time February comes around, we will have learnt whether 2013 Ballon d'Or finalist Franck Ribery was successful in his attempt to win the global award.

However, regardless of whom the trophy goes to in January, Bayern will be all-too aware of what responsibility lies with their French veteran in terms of turning the tide in their favour.

Last season, the Gunners were fortunate in that Ribery was only available for 63 minutes of the two-legged encounter through injury.

That being the case, it's daunting to think that Bacary Sagna barely came up against his countryman for that two-fixture affair, something that's bound to have an impact on the outcome of this term's head-to-head.

Sagna, who is among the Premier League's most offensive full-backs, could be seen as a potential weak point by his international compatriot, who would be more than happy to punish the North London outfit in order to make up for lost time.

Stopping Ribery's supply line down the left flank will be key for Arsenal, so it will be interesting to see if Wenger tells Sagna to bomb forward in order to place Ribery on the back foot.

 

Prediction: Arsenal 2-2 Bayern Munich; Bayern Munich 2-1 Arsenal (Aggregate 4-3, Bayern Advance).

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