Round and round again.
A similar situation to a year ago sees Bayern München two goals up on Ars after the London leg, although a symmetrical scenario, a 2-0 victory for Arsenal in Munich, would make for a scintillating close to the Round of 16 of the UEFA Champions League.
The Gunners will enter the Allianz Arena pitch 11 men, an under-appreciated advantage not had in the first leg. The Reds will enter with the healthiest squad during their European title defense, an advantage absent for most of the season.
Let the bell ring to recommence the red bout, one that has entertained neutrals now two years running.
The Match (8th meeting)
Location: Allianz Arena, Munich, Germany
Head Referee: Svein Oddvar Moen
FC Bayern: 2 W, 0 D, 0 L – 4 YC
Assistants: Kim Haglund, Frank Andås
Goal Line Officials: Kim Andre Johnsen, Svein Erik Edvartsen
Fourth Official: Leif Erik Opland
Time converter at worldtimebuddy.com
Television and Streaming
US: Fox Sports 1, Fox Deportes, Fox Soccer 2Go
Canada: Sportsnet East, Sportsnet West, Sportsnet Ontario, Sportsnet Pacific, Sportsnet World Online
UK: ITV 1, STV Scotland, UTV, BBC Radio 5 Live
FC Bayern: WWWWW
UEFA Champions League: 4 W, 1 D, 2 L
*Advanced passed Arsenal three times
Biggest Victory: 3-1 (February 22, 2005, Munich, Germany; February 19 2013, London, England)
Biggest Defeat: 0-2 (March 13, 2013, Munich, Germany)
With most of his options available against VfL Wolfsburg, Bayern manager Pep Guardiola decided to throw three wingers, who all had injury questions, into the attacking midfield. Thomas Müller, also returning from injury, operated up top. Thiago Alcântara and Mario Mandžukić came on and changed the complexion of the match as FC Bayern scored five unanswered goals.
Going into the second leg, Guardiola will likely start with Mandžukić and Thiago from the beginning, possibly carrying the momentum from the weekend with them.
What this match presents an opportunity for is to put Thiago, Kroos and Bastian Schweinsteiger on the pitch at the same time. Sitting at the weekend, Schweinsteiger will have a turn in the XI, and Guardiola will be hard-pressed if he leaves Kroos on the bench with the stellar performance in Emriates Stadium three weeks ago.
The other factor to be conscious of is Dante's yellow card situation. He is the only player thus far to be in yellow card danger. With Javier Martínez continuing to emerge as a center back option, Guardiola has the luxury of saving players facing suspensions for matches that could matter more.
The gravity of the game will expose what could be some of Guardiola's first choices.
Projected Lineup (4-2-3-1)
Franck Ribery – Thiago Alcântara – Mario Götze
Bastian Schweinsteiger – Toni Kroos
Bench: Tom Starke, Daniel van Buyten, Rafinha, Javier Martínez, Arjen Robben, Thomas Müller, Claudio Pizarro
If the up-and-down stretch Ars went through during the time between the two legs shows one thing, it is that the Gunners have different calibers of play, and they may be able to manipulate which caliber is used when.
Needing a victory for morale, Olivier Giroud bagged two goals against Sunderland en route to a 4-1 spectacle. A drop in form against Stoke City was chance-less and uninspired, culminating in a game-changing hand ball from Laurent Koscielny. The Gunners then reloaded the firepower against Everton, blowing the Toffees to smithereens in the second half in Mesut Özil's return to the starting XI.
The loss of Jack Wilshere during the midweek FIFA friendlies was undoubted sucker-punch, but the distribution skills of Mikel Arteta may be the right ingredient for pivot anyways. The return of Thomas Vermaelen has allowed for Koscielny to catch his breath as well as reaffirming depth in a critical position for Arsene Wenger.
With the 0-2 deficit going into the match, Wenger might commit more wingers to the cause rather than play the likes of Santi Cazorla out of position, putting added pressure on the flanks.
The Gunners were able to add an element of surprise a year ago, but they will need more than that to blow past Bayern a second time.
Projected Lineup (4-2-3-1)
Lukas Podolski – Mesut Özil – Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Mikel Arteta – Mathieu Flamini
Nacho Monreal – Laurent Koscielny – Per Mertesacker – Bacary Sagna
Bench: Emiliano Viviano, Thomas Vermaelen, Carl Jenkinson, Santi Cazorla, Tomáš Rosický, Serge Gnabry, Yaya Sanogo
Being robbed of a fair fight from Wojciech Szczesny ill-advised collision with Robben in the first leg, Ars will come out guns blazing, once again attempting to push Bayern back on their heals. For all of their efforts though, the Gunners are not likely to surpass the defending champions with the captain/vice-captain combination Bayern has back in the fold. The match will be the talk of the Champions League, a stellar spectacular for the neutral to expect.