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Runaway Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich expecting overdue test at revived Arsenal

On domestic duty, Bayern Munich have rarely looked unsettled, holding a 16-point lead over Leverkusen and going 46 games unbeaten. However, their Champions League clash with Arsenal may test the mettle of the Germans.

Neuer, Lahm, Boateng, Schweinsteiger, Müller, Kroos, Götze, Mertesacker, Özil, and Podolski: It is the list of Germany national team players that could be on the pitch on Wednesday in London. The first seven are part of the Bayern squad, the other three play for Arsenal.

The opening leg may be the first challenge in a long time for Bayern Munich, who lead the Bundesliga by an impressive margin. Bayern have not lost one of their last 46 games - but Arsenal was the opponent who came closest to eliminating the Bavarians from Champions League competition last season. Then coached by Jupp Heynckes, Bayern lost 2-0 at home to Arsenal in the second leg of the quarterfinals.

The holders of last season's Champions League crown romped to five successive victories in a group stage featuring Manchester City, Viktoria Plzen and CSKA Moscow, before losing 3-2 at home to English Premier League side City in December.

“We need two perfect matches, but we know we can beat them,” Arsenal's Germany international defender Per Mertesacker said ahead of the match. “And we are in better shape this year than last. We want to achieve something special this year, that is why we have to beat the best,” he continued.

Indeed, Arsenal are stronger than they were last year. After all, they now have Mesut Özil. The Germany midfielder with Turkish heritage arrived from Real Madrid for 50 million Euros last European summer. He is their "key player" according to Bayern defender Jerome Boateng.

With a 3-1 triumph at the Emirates Stadium in the bag at the same stage in last year's competition, Bayern dropped into first gear and suffered a surprising home loss to the Gunners, with Olivier Giroud's late finish leading to a nervous conclusion to the tie at the Allianz Arena.

The North London side are expected to start forward Lukas Podolski after the player scored in the win over Liverpool in the FA Cup at the weekend. The ex-Cologne ace faces his old employers on Wednesday – Podolski had a three-year stint in Munich, prior to his return to the Billy Goats.

"We have huge respect for them," said Podolski, who has 111 Germany caps to his name. "But we won't hide. Over two matches, anything can happen."

Meanwhile, Özil says he is looking forward to the challenge of playing Bayern. “...I also have a lot of respect for the Bayern team, they are even stronger than they were last year,” he said. “But we will keep our heads high. Everything is possible in those two games.”

Bayern, on the other hand, are well-prepared. Coach Pep Guardiola rested most of his stars in last Saturday's league win over Freiburg. Now, his team is raring to go for what it sees as potentially one of the first real challenges of another domineering season.

“We are really looking forward to this. We really need a good result in London, against a team we know is very strong on the offense,” Bayern captain Philipp Lahm said.

The experienced 30-year-old full-back is still in contention to play the central-midfield role with Toni Kroos and Thiago Alcantara. Although, Bastian Schweinsteiger could finally put an end to a long recovery process from surgery and start in London.

“It will be a duel of equals,” goalkeeper Manuel Neuer predicted. “The Champions League is extremely important for us. And Arsenal is a big name club, we are prepared.”

There's been no let-up for the Bundesliga since the winter break, as Bayern continue the set the pace with their most impressive and all-round performances coming this side of the shutdown.

After Bayer Leverkusen's substantial loss against French side Paris St. Germain, the other two German teams in the competition will not be playing until next week, when Borussia Dortmund travel to Russia to face Zenit St. Petersburg and Schalke host Real Madrid.

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