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Defining tie for Manchester City and a test of Arsenal's resolve after draw

Arsenal earned the distinction in the Champions League draw, since being paired with Bayern Munich was the most daunting prospect of all.

Wojciech Szczesny, the Arsenal goalkeeper, fails to prevent Mario Mandzukic scoring for Bayern Munich during the 3-1 defeat at the Emirates Stadium last February. Picture: Getty Images
Wojciech Szczesny, the Arsenal goalkeeper, fails to prevent Mario Mandzukic scoring for Bayern Munich during the 3-1 defeat at the Emirates Stadium last February. Picture: Getty Images

The European elite are entrenched in their positions, but it is Bayern who carry the devastating reputation for now, and so Arsenal will feel the burden of their task.

Beyond the allure of major teams playing knockout football against each other, the dramas are filled out by individuals. City are now being run by two men who were integral to Barcelona commandeering popular acclaim in the past decade for a brand of principled, high-achieving football. Ferran Soriano, the former Barca vice-president, is chief executive officer at City, while Txiki Begiristain is director of football, having previously held a similar role at Camp Nou.

The two will feel a personal obligation for City to prevail. They are attempting to guide City to the pinnacle of European football, which means usurping their former side. Opponents have tended to be intimidated by the superior, domineering football that the Spanish team has formed into a defining characteristic, but City will not be humbled by the occasion. As well as Soriano and Begiristain, the club has a number of individuals who have jousted with Barcelona in the past and will consider this a familiar assignment.

Manuel Pellegrini, the manager, spent the last nine years working in Spain with Villarreal, Real Madrid and Malaga, while Alvarao Negredo, Javi Garcia, Jesus Navas, Sergio Aguero and David Silva all have extensive experience of La Liga. This is a defining tie for City, since the club has sought to make an impact at this level, and overcoming Barcelona would establish them in the upper tier. The same assessment will be made of Pellegrini, who was brought to the Etihad Stadium to provide the tactical nuance and strategy that the club's owners felt best fitted their ethos, so a number of reputations will be enhanced or undermined by how the team performs.

Barcelona are still capable of devastating, if beautiful, ruthlessness but Tata Martino is in his first season in charge at Camp Nou and something of the team's invincibility has diminished since Pep Guardiola left the club last year. The Spaniard is now responsible for the alarm that Arsenal might feel from the draw. Bayern Munich were unassailable last season, but Guardiola has managed to refine and enhance the defending champions' accomplishment since replacing Jupp Heynckes last summer.

Arsenal were knocked out by the same opponents at this stage of the competition last season, which Arsene Wenger still considers a pivotal moment. His side won the second leg 2-0 in Germany, but were knocked out after being defeated 3-1 at home. That victory in the Allianz Arena altered the mindset of Wenger's players, though, since they have carried the belief in their capabilities into an unexpected but enduring challenge for the Barclays Premier League title.

They remain a team that generates doubt, since Olivier Giroud is one injury away from leaving the team without a top-class centre forward, but the midfield has been fluently effective this season and the defence strong and unrelenting, at least until Saturday's 6-3 defeat to Manchester City, a result that still seems freakish. It must gall City and Arsenal, though, that the draw has been so forgiving to Manchester United and Chelsea. Being paired with Olympiakos and Galatasaray, respectively, is almost a conciliatory encouragement from the tournament to take their time in recovering their consistency and authority.

United's domestic form is unreliable, but they ought to be too strong and experienced for the Greeks, even if there are individuals they need to be wary of, not least the striker Konstantinos Mitroglou, who has scored 17 goals in his last 16 games. For Chelsea, there is the determination of Roberto Mancini to return to England and prove his worth as the coach of Galatasaray, even in a knockout tie, while Didier Drogba will lead the line against his former team-mates, ensuring that the two games will at least contain an emotional undercurrent.

Only England and Germany saw all of their teams advance from the group stages, confirming the strength of their domestic leagues, but not guaranteeing the trophy will end up in either country. Real Madrid will be confident of overcoming Schalke, while Atletico Madrid are one of the form teams in Europe and will consider themselves the favourites against an AC Milan side that still carries an air of faded grandeur.

Some clubs will feel that draw has been overly harsh, but eventually there is no escaping the best of Europe's side in the competition. Arsenal and, to a greater extent, Manchester City do not need to feel downcast, but they are now exposed to a prominent test of their credentials. Individuals will dominate the encounters, though, and the narratives around them.

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