Arsenal must stage one of the most unlikely Champions League comebacks if they are to advance at the expense of hosts Bayern Munich in their round-of-16 second-leg clash on Wednesday.
Bayern silenced the Gunners 3-1 in London last month to put themselves in the driving seat for a spot in the quarterfinals for the third time in the last four seasons.
Only twice in the Champions League has a team lost the home leg of a knockout round match and survived by winning the away leg. Ajax Amsterdam did it in 1995-96 against Panathinaikos and Inter Milan did it in the last-16 in 2010-11 -- coincidentally against Bayern.
The Germans won 1-0 in Milan in the first leg, before losing 3-2 at home and going out on the away goals rule. Arsenal though have two goals to make up and must overcome the psychological disadvantage of having been completely outplayed by Bayern in north London -- something coach Arsene Wenger was at pains to point out before the squad left for Germany. “We're chasing the game in a very difficult environment against a team that has no doubts at all,” he said. “Our mentality is to go there, not resigned, but ambitious and provoke things, not go there and think ‘we will not qualify anyway’.
“No, not at all. We will go to Munich and have to go there and give ourselves a chance to qualify with everybody believing we can do it.”
Things got even tougher for the Gunners with three key players likely to miss the Bayern clash. Defender Bacary Sagna is nursing a long-term leg injury while midfielder Jack Wilshere sprained an ankle during Arsenal's 2-1 defeat to arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur in the North London derby on March 3 and has been slow to recover.
Striker Lukas Podolski, who has been relegated to the bench for the last six matches, is also suffering with an ankle problem.
The Bavarians, on the other hand, are enjoying a sparkling season and despite three key absences, should advance to the quarterfinals and a step closer to a Wembley final.
Wary of last season’s implosion when they ended up with no title at all, club CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, however, warned of becoming complacent.
Bayern, who have reached the final twice in the last three seasons, will be without injured winger Franck Ribery, enjoying his best season yet at Bayern. He will join suspended defender Jerome Boateng and holding midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger on the sidelines.
Arjen Robben is set to replace Ribery, something the Dutchman has done once already with success this season, scoring the only goal as they eliminated Borussia Dortmund from the German Cup late last month.
Brazilian Luiz Gustavo will come in for Schweinsteiger while Daniel van Buyten is expected to start instead of Boateng in the central defence.
Malaga have used medieval imagery in a promotional video for their last-16 second-leg at home to Porto, seeking inspiration for an historic performance from the Spanish debutantes on Wednesday.
Goalkeeper Willy Caballero carries a shield, defender Jesus Gamez the club colours, and forward Julio Baptista hammers out a Malaga crest in a fiery forge, while the strapline challenges fans: “We are ready. Are you?”
The club from the Costa del Sol must overturn a 1-0 scoreline from the first leg in Portugal last month if they are to oust the two-times European champions, and continue their continental adventure into the quarterfinals.
“We are at home, in front of our own fans and we have to make the most of it,” Malaga’s Porto-born midfielder Duda told reporters on Monday.
“The players, the staff and everyone else knows this is the most important game in Malaga's history.”
It was only five years ago that Malaga were playing in the second division, but promotion in 2008, a takeover by Qatari Sheikh Abdullah Al Thani, and a top-four finish last season have catapulted the club into the big time.
However, it has not been a smooth ride. Doubts over the commitment of the new owners have persisted with the sale of top players, while delayed payments to staff and other clubs has earned them a UEFA ban from future European competition for at least a season.
Malaga are contesting the ruling and still lie fourth in La Liga after a 1-1 draw at Valladolid on Saturday.
Coach Manuel Pellegrini has a near full squad available with Baptista, Eliseu and Francisco Portillo all back after injury.
Porto responded to a disappointing draw at Sporting with a comfortable 2-0 win over Estoril on Friday, when they scored early goals and then entered into energy-saving mode.
The influential Moutinho, who scored Porto's first-leg winner, missed Porto's last two matches with a thigh strain but is set to return for the trip to Malaga.
Porto should be at full strength as bulky French centre-back Mangala is also expected to recover from a shoulder injury.
The Portuguese champions have promised to stick to their trademark attacking style.