Arsenal had won their UEFA Champions League group for the first time since 2011. They weren’t supposed to face one of the big boys.
So when Bayern Munich’s name was read aloud at the draw for the last 16, Arsenal fans around the world let out a collective groan at their rotten luck.
The Gunners had been blown out of the water at the last 16 for six seasons running; and on three of those occasions Bayern had pulled the trigger.
Both coaches, to varying degrees, arrived at the Allianz Arena under pressure on Wednesday night.
Carlo Ancelotti was trying to live up a Pep Guardiola-defined recent past, and some sub-par league performances had cast doubts. Pep couldn’t bring Bayern the Champions League, that’s what Carlo was here for.
Arsene Wenger was trying to live to the past, too; or perhaps he was trying to live in the past. After two decades, a minority of Wenger sceptics were becoming the majority in North London. They said if he finished on par once more, this time he would be finished for good.
Both coaches required a midfield masterclass – a maestro to dictate the play, assert authority, and exert dominance in a clash of two sides increasingly defined by their passing game.
So, all eyes were focused on two central characters as Thiago Alcantara and his Nike Hypervenom Phinish III went up against Mesut Ozil and his Ace 17+ Purecontrol in a boot battle of high stakes.
But it would not prove much of a battle at all, as Thiago put in what Ancelotti labelled a “perfect performance” to see the Hypervenom begin clawing its way back towards the adidas X in the INTERSPORT Football Boot Ranking for the Champions League.
The INTERSPORT Football Boot Ranking has been created to empower football fans to choose the best available boot for their needs.
The adidas X has been dominating the tournament, with the likes of Karim Benzema, Angel Di Maria and Lucas Moura helping it to a mightily impressive score of 9.4/10.
The Nike Hypervenom was languishing down in seventh with 8.6. But Thiago certainly did his part to bridge the gap this week.
The former Barcelona man had 111 touches on the night, more than twice the number managed by Ozil. Some will say that was largely down to Bayern’s astonishing 75% possession, others will argue that figure was the effect rather than cause.
Bayern completely dominated the midfield zone and Thiago was the star, completing 89 passes – more than three times Ozil’s total of 24.
And, most importantly, Thiago’s passes were invariably productive ones. The Spain international operated largely as a no.10, playing just behind Robert Lewandowski, and was devastatingly penetrative in the second period as Bayern ran wild.
Ozil was largely a bystander. He could have made a real impact on the game in the first half, but twice wasted fine chances by shooting straight at Manuel Neuer.
Thiago would not be so forgiving. Both of his shots in the game found the net – first he ran onto a Lewandowski flick to coolly slot past David Ospina, then his ferocious low drive was deflected into the Arsenal net.
And he wasn’t done yet. With two minutes remaining, Thiago all but killed the tie by teasing the Arsenal defence before putting in Thomas Muller to make it 5-1.
It was the first time Arsenal had conceded five goals in a game since November 2015 – their last clash with Bayern (1-5).
The Hypervenom, which also sits seventh in the overall rankings across all of Europe’s top leagues, has some way to go as it attempts get climb the INTERSPORT Football Boot Ranking, but Thiago certainly flew the flag this week.
The INTERSPORT Football Boot Ranking looks at which boots the game's biggest stars are wearing and links the data to statistics from competitions across Europe, and fans can track the progression of their favourite boots throughout the season by navigating the rankings online. Discover which football boot performs the best now.