Arsenal made it through the Champions League group stages in the most dramatic fashion — and its reward is a last-16 clash with Barcelona, arguably the most-feared team in Europe’s top football competition.
The London club, which won at Olympiakos in the final game of the group stages to ensure qualification, was handed the toughest possible assignment against the titleholder in Monday’s draw at UEFA headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland.
In-form Barcelona sits at the top of the Spanish league despite drawing its last two matches, and Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has to work out how to achieve the seemingly impossible — keeping attackers Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar quiet.
Barcelona director of sporting institutional relations Albert Soler said he was looking forward to “a very attractive game.”
“English teams are always very strong,” he told Eurosport. “We need to play to the best of our abilities. Arsenal are not favorites here, but we don’t consider ourselves outright favorites. Arsenal are a strong team.
“The only guarantee we have is that we’ll have two great teams playing two great games.”
Arsenal and Barca have met three times in the competition in the last decade.
In the 2006 final, the Catalan club won 2-1 thanks to a late Juliano Belletti goal, and in 2010 Arsenal lost 6-3 on aggregate in the quarterfinals.
The most recent meeting came in 2011, when Arsenal won the home leg 2-1 but ended up losing 4-3 in the last-16 clash.
In other high-profile ties, struggling Premier League winner Chelsea takes on French champion Paris Saint-Germain and last year’s runner-up Juventus plays German champion Bayern Munich.
Real Madrid faces Roma, Manchester City takes on Dynamo Kiev while Belgian club Gent plays Wolfsburg, the club that eliminated Manchester United. Dutch team PSV Eindhoven plays 2014 finalist Atletico Madrid and Benfica tackles Zenit St. Petersburg.
PSG is reunited with Chelsea after beating the London side in last season’s competition, winning on away goals after a dramatic 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge followed a 1-1 draw in the French capital.
On its Twitter feed, Chelsea posted: “We meet again … see you again soon, PSG.”
Bayern ambassador Franz Beckenbauer, speaking at the draw, said his club’s clash with Juventus would be “a mouthwatering tie.” Juventus legend Pavel Nedved said he was “confident, even though we know Bayern represent very tough opposition.”
Meanwhile, Manchester City fans will be unable to travel to Kiev after the Ukrainian club was ordered to play its next European game behind closed doors due to crowd racism and disturbances during October’s group game against Chelsea.
Kiev coach Sergei Rebrov said City is “a solid and well-balanced team” but added: “We have already played against them and enjoyed success. Everyone has weak points, and our job is to find them.”
The matches take place over two legs with the group-winning teams away from home first.
The first-leg games will be played on February 16 and 17, with return legs taking place on February 23 and 24.
The draw system means no team can play any club from its own domestic competition or from its Champions League qualifying groups — so a possible Clasico clash between Barcelona and Real Madrid or an all-English tie could not happen until the quarterfinals.