With Arsenal in Sight, Bayern Munich's Real Campaign Starts Here

Stefan BienkowskiFeatured ColumnistFebruary 16, 2014

Bayern's Mario Mandzukic of Croatia, right, celebrates his third goal with Arjen Robben, Mario Goetze and Javier Martinez, from left, during the  quarterfinal match of the German soccer cup between Hamburger SV and Bayern Munich in Hamburg, Germany, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
Martin Meissner

The coming week will see the return of the European Champions League and with it the high-profile clash between English Premier League side Arsenal and the German and European champions Bayern Munich—two clubs with distinguishing domestic campaigns but both eyes on the continent's biggest prize. 

The past seven days have seen the consistent and somewhat predictable nature of Bayern Munich's domestic campaign bear fruit with a DFB Pokal quarter-final game against Hamburg and a Bundesliga battle with Freiburg end in two victories that saw the Munich club put nine goals past their opponents without a single reply. 

In truth, Bayern's hold on German football is somewhat of a bore. Not through their own fault, of course, but through the manner in which their victory has already been assured despite it only being February. The competition is gone, so there's nothing to fight for. 

That is why the coming week's showdown with Arsenal will prove so impeccably important to the significance of Bayern's season. The Champions League is where their real campaign begins, and it's the competition on which we will all be gauging their ability for the remainder of the year.  

For Bayern, the historic significance of the Champions League knows no bounds. It was this competition that announced the club to the world stage in the 70s, with club legends such as Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Muller and Paul Breitner, who would go on to change the next decade of European and world football. 

Martin Meissner/Associated Press

When people think of the European cup, they may think of their own club's significance throughout the years, but eventually they come to Bayern. Ten finals in just 40 years is enough to equate such a prestigious event with the synonymous nature of this club. This Bavarian club may play for the German Bundesliga every year, but it's the Champions League they fight for. 

It was the demise of the club through the 80s that were defined so well by the two failures to win the competition in '82 and '87. So too did the club's decade fall beneath them in that famous final against Manchester United in 1999. For two decades, Bayern were on the edge of greatness but never found it. 

Even if we were to close in on the club's timeline to within the past five years, this competition still defines everything that has happened at this club. 

Louis van Gaal's gung-ho side were effectively pushed to their limits in 2010 against Jose Mourinho's counter-attacking Inter Milan side, but such a final quickly defined what Bayern were under the Dutch clubagain, close, but not quite there. It would take four years and two more finals with new coach Jupp Heynckes before Bayern would win their first European Cup in 12 years. 

With that trophy in hand, we now find Bayern where they are today: the most intimidating side in European football. 

Of course, it isn't just Bayern who have a desperate desire for the European cup. It's Pep Guardiola's favourite competition, too. 

In fact, some might say that in spite of all the treasures and success the young Catalonian has amassed in his short managerial career, it is the Champions League victories with his former Barcelona side that truly defined what that team accomplished. 

The Spanish top division is a worthy task for any manager, with the likes of Real Madrid and now Atletico Madrid pushing Barcelona for the title, yet it certainly doesn't compare to winning the best that Europe has to offer.

Like the Bundesliga this season, Spain's La Liga has often been criticised of lacking genuine quality or competition beyond the top two or three sides and, as such, has fallen down the rankings when Guardiola's trophies begin to get compared. Like the current campaign, Guardiola will feel he's accomplished very little without the warm embrace of the Champions League.

Now let us see if Bayern and Guardiola can take one step toward such desire with Arsenal in sight this week.