The Champion’s League draw for the last sixteen took place on Monday and Barcelona have been handed a mouth-watering clash with Arsenal.
It’s fair to say that both teams will feel they could have been handed a kinder draw. Barcelona will be strong favourites to progress to the quarter-final stage but Arsenal are possibly the most dangerous team they could have drawn at this stage.
Given both club’s preference for attacking football, the tie should provide a great spectacle for football lovers everywhere.
Here are five key factors surrounding the fixture:
1. Both sides aiming to alter records
Both teams will head into the last sixteen fixture looking to bring very different records to an end.
Barcelona are looking to become the first team ever to retain the Champions League in its current format and have have been here before of course. The Catalans were favourites to retain the crown in both 2010 and 2012 only to fall at the semi-final stage both times. Despite recent patchy form, Barcelona are still favourites to emerge victorious in the final at the San Siro next May.
Arsenal on the other hand have failed to advance beyond the last sixteen for the last five seasons. The Gunners have found out the hard way that finishing second in the group stage can seriously harm any chance of progressing into the latter stages. Wenger will feel unlucky again to have drawn one of the favourites after crashing out to Barca and Bayern Munich in recent seasons and. It looks as though that unwanted run may well stretch to six years.
2. Will Arsene Wenger make adaptations?
Over the course of the last decade, Arsenal have often been compared to Barcelona in terms of style. Both teams play the kind of fluent, attacking football that spectators desire when they part with their hard-earned cash to watch their team.
The Gunners may well be similar to the Catalan giants in terms of their footballing philosophies, but the Londoners are way behind Barcelona when it comes to winning silverware. When finding reasons for Arsenal's lack of trophies, Arsene Wenger's critics often point to his stubbornness.
Wenger generally sends his team out with the same instructions no matter who the opponent, and many fans and pundits feel it might be more conducive to take a more cautious approach when facing teams that hold a great attacking threat.
One of Arsenal's finest victories last season was at Manchester City when the Gunners approached the game in a more measured, defensive manner to come away with a 2-0 victory. Francis Coquelin was superb that day in a holding midfield role, but the injured Frenchman is a doubt for the Barcelona tie.
As good a team as City are, it will be a different proposition when it comes to stopping the like of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar. Even if Wenger does take a more pragmatic approach, he may discover it will still not be enough to keep out the firepower that Barcelona have at their disposal.
3. History is on Barca's side
This will be fourth time Barcelona have met Arsenal in the Champion's League knockout stages and so far the Catalans have come out on top in each of those occasions.
The first encounter came in Paris, 2006, when the two sides met in the final itself. Arsenal took the lead through Sol Campbell only for Samuel Eto'o to break their hearts with a late equaliser. Moments later Juliano Belletti scored the winner to secure the Catalans' first Champions League triumph in 14 years.
In 2010 it was at the quarter-final stage when the clubs would collide, and again it was Barcelona who came out on top. After an exceptional 2-2 draw in the first leg at the Emirates, the Gunners had the misfortune of into running into Lionel Messi at his dazzling best in the second leg. Messi was sensational as he scored all four goals in a 4-1 win at the Camp Nou to send Barca into another semi-final.
A year after that Messi masterclass, Pep Guardiola's all-conquering side met the North Londoners in the last sixteen. Arsenal arrived in the second leg full of confidence after Andriy Arshavin's winner in the English side's 2-1 first leg victory but would ultimately go out of the competition at the hands of the Catalans again. Messi scored two more in a 3-1 win as Barcelona advanced to the next stage of the competition they would go on to win that year.
Arsenal may have improved since then, but Barcelona have arguably even greater weapons now, and the odds are that Wenger and his men will find history repeating itself.
4. A clash of titans: Messi vs Petr Cech
Messi may have put Arsenal to the sword in previous meetings between the two clubs, but the Argentine maestro has yet to score past Petr Cech.
Cech is one of the very few goalkeepers who have managed to keep Messi from finding the net against him. 28-year-old Messi failed to find the net in six matches against Cech when the stopper was plying his trade at Chelsea. That rare run of clean sheets against the Argentine may well change in February as the Gunners are more open at the back than those Chelsea teams of the past, and Messi will feel confident in adding to his European tally of 80 goals.
Arsenal, on the whole have improved defensively, but it will take a monumental effort to keep out the Barca front three of Messi, Suarez and Neymar. The greatest attacking trident in world football have already blasted 46 goals between them this season and most would expect them to add to that when it comes to facing the Gunners.
Per Mertesacker has his strengths but lacks mobility and pace, and may find Barcelona's attacking trio too much to handle.
5. Arsenal’s attacking threat
There may still be familiar question marks over the solidity of the Arsenal backline, but their attacking unit is firing on all cylinders at present.
Barcelona fans will need no introduction to Alexis Sanchez of course. The Chilean star spent three seasons at the Camp Nou before departing in 2014. Sanchez has proved a huge success at the Emirates and has been Arsenal's talisman for much of his time in North London. The 26-year-old provides endless running and a serious goal threat. Jordi Alba and Dani Alvez will have to beware their former team-mates directiveness when he takes to the flanks.
Another familiar face for Barca fans will be that of Mesut Ozil. The ex-Real Madrid midfielder had an inconsistent couple of seasons but is now the chief creator in this fluent Arsenal side.
Another threat from the midfield will be that of Aaron Ramsey. The Welshman has matured into an excellent goalscoring midfielder in the past few seasons and possesses the ability to arrive in the box at the right time.
Fortunately for Barcelona, they have perhaps the most capable man in world football to deal with the threat of Ozil and Ramsey. Sergio Busquets has once again been peerless this season and his presence will be vital in ensuring Arsenal don't find a way through the middle of the park.
With the pace of Theo Walcott, and the physical presence of Olivier Giroud, Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano will also have their work cut out to contain the striking threat Arsenal provide.
Despite the obvious dangers Arsenal bring, Barcelona will feel they have the players to handle them. With all their attacking talents Real Madrid barely had a sniff in the Clasico last month. On the other hand, the defence hasn't been impenetrable of late as proved with throwing away a two-goal lead against Deportivo at the weekend.
If Barcelona display the same kind of complacency against Wenger's men, then the implications will be far more severe. Head coach Luis Enrique will be mindful of that and will look to prepare his team the best way possible in order to handle whatever the Gunners throw at them.