PARIS, February 14 – There was a distinct air of deja vu about the draw for the Champions League round of 16, with six teams drawn to face sides they encountered during last season's competition.
Real Madrid, seeking a 10th title, will have a chance to avenge their exit at the same stage last season when they face Lyon, while Arsenal are set to resume hostilities with their quarter-final conquerors Barcelona.
The most emotive reunion, meanwhile, sees Bayern Munich cross swords with Inter Milan, who defeated the Bavarians 2-0 in last season’s final in Madrid.
Arsenal have perhaps the most unenviable task against a Barcelona side who have this season raised their standards to even more breath-taking levels.
A 5-0 thrashing of Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid in November was widely heralded as one of the most complete performances in the sport’s history and they recently went on a record 16-game winning streak in La Liga.
Lionel Messi, winner of the inaugural FIFA Ballon d’Or award, has already scored 37 goals in all competitions to date and Arsenal know well what a devastatingly effective adversary he is.
The Argentine dribbling maestro netted all four goals in Barca’s 4-1 defeat of the Gunners at Camp Nou last year, following a thrilling 2-2 draw in the first leg.
Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger concedes that Barcelona are even stronger than they were 12 months ago but feels that his team have also improved.
"We are different because we are in better form going into this game than we were last year and in a better shape physically," said Wenger.
"Having said that, I concede as well that Barcelona are even stronger than last year. But I think we can give them a very interesting test."
Arsenal tackle Barcelona at the Emirates on Wednesday, with their north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur set to take centre stage the night before when they travel to seven-time champions AC Milan.
Champions League debutants Spurs illuminated the group phase, losing 4-3 at Inter before beating the defending champions 3-1 at White Hart Lane, but they will be without their dashing Welsh winger Gareth Bale due to a back injury.
"Gareth is not too far away. He’s not going to be fit, I don’t think, for Tuesday, but he’s not too bad," said Spurs coach Harry Redknapp.
"He would scare them to death, for sure."
Two-time runners-up Valencia host Schalke on Tuesday, with Roma and last-16 debutants Shakhtar Donetsk sharing the bill with Arsenal and Barcelona on Wednesday.
Real Madrid closed the gap on La Liga leaders Barcelona to five points with a 1-0 win at Espanyol on Sunday but they will be wary of Lyon, whom they have failed to beat in six previous Champions League meetings.
Lyon prevailed 2-1 on aggregate in last season’s round-of-16 encounter, after Miralem Pjanic scored a crucial 75th-minute equaliser in the second leg at the Bernabeu.
The seven-time French champions went on to reach the semi-finals for the first time in their history and president Jean-Michel Aulas is relishing another prestige encounter with the Spanish powerhouses.
"Even though the draw wasn’t kind, I hope to beat Real Madrid over two games for the fourth time in a row," Aulas told French sport daily L’Equipe last week.
"Mourinho’s head and his credibility are on the line, and it’s the same for the president, (Florentino) Perez, but we’ll do everything to beat them."
Real visit Lyon on February 22, when FC Copenhagen — appearing at this stage of the competition for the first time — welcome big-spending Premier League giants Chelsea to the Danish capital.
Bayern will hope to put their domestic difficulties to one side when they tackle Inter at the San Siro the following evening.
Louis van Gaal’s side are 13 points behind Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga but recently welcomed back star forwards Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben after spells on the sidelines.
Manchester United, who fell to Bayern in last season’s quarter-finals, face French champions Marseille in the remaining tie.