By Tom Hayward
ARSENAL and Manchester City face monumental tasks when they visit European powerhouses Bayern Munich and Barcelona looking to overturn 2-0 deficits in the second legs of their Champions League last-16 ties.
Arsenal must overcome Pep Guardiola and his red-hot Bayern side at the Allianz Arena on Tuesday after goals from Toni Kroos and Thomas Mueller condemned them to defeat in the first leg at the Emirates Stadium last month.
City, meanwhile, travel to the Nou Camp on Wednesday with their own mountain to climb after goals from Lionel Messi and Dani Alves gave Barcelona a commanding advantage midway through the tie.
In the week’s other last-16 ties, Atletico Madrid face AC Milan at the Vicente Calderon with a 1-0 lead tonight before Paris St Germain host Bayer Leverkusen at the Parc des Princes on Wednesday with a 4-0 advantage after the first leg.
Arsenal, third in the Premier League, have the unenviable task of trying to become only the second team to beat the runaway Bundesliga leaders at home this season.
The Gunners can take heart from last season’s visit to the same venue where they won 2-0 and only failed to make it through to the quarter-finals by virtue of an away goal after Bayern had won the first leg 3-1 in London.
Arsene Wenger will be buoyed by his team’s 4-1 win over Everton in the FA Cup quarter-finals on Saturday, which represents their most realistic chance of a trophy this season.
“Psychologically, it puts us in a good mind for Munich,” said Wenger. “We can be inspired by our focus and our desire.
“It was a high-quality performance from the first minute to the last minute and we can go to Bayern in the same spirit.
“The statistics are against us, but let’s make sure that the performance goes for us, and then we have a chance.”
Wenger was pleased by the display of Mesut Ozil who scored the opening goal, provided the assist for Arsenal’s fourth and put in a vastly improved performance ahead of the must-win second leg.
“I think the goal was important for him,” said Wenger. “You sometimes want him to take more of a chance because he always looks for the good pass.
“He also did a lot of what you would call ‘dirty work’. He tracked back a lot on counter-attacks and when he behaves like that you have a better chance to win the game.”
Manchester City’s task against Barcelona is every bit as difficult and they will have to do it without manager Manuel Pellegrini who will be serving the first game of a two-match touchline ban at the Camp Nou.
The Chilean was punished after remarks he made about Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson, claiming some of the official’s decisions in the first leg were “not impartial”.
His comments related to Eriksson’s decision to award a penalty and send off City’s Martin Demichelis despite his challenge on Messi appearing to take place outside the box.
The 60-year-old reluctantly accepted the ban and turned his attention to Wednesday where ‘revenge’ is on the agenda for Pellegrini and City.
“We will try to make a good match against Barcelona to try to have our revenge and continue in the Champions League,” he said.
In Wednesday’s other game Paris St Germain, top of Ligue 1, host Bayer Leverkusen, third in the Bundesliga, comfortable in the knowledge that only a monumental turnaround will prevent them reaching their second successive quarter-final.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been in imperious form in the competition so far scoring ten goals, including two in the first leg, to trail only Cristiano Ronaldo in the competition’s goalscoring charts this season.
La Liga title contenders Atletico Madrid will be confident of progressing after a late Diego Costa header gave them a priceless away goal to take back to Madrid tonight.
Milan, who have been crowned European champions seven times, are having a forgettable season languishing in tenth in Serie A, 37 points behind leaders Juventus.
Milan coach Clarence Seedorf, who won the Champions League four times at three different clubs including twice with Milan in 2003 and 2007, was confident his team could rise to the occasion.
“With courage, this kind of optimism and a little more luck we are about to turn everything around, I’m sure of it,” Seedorf said.