UEFA.com's team of reporters and correspondents provide you with reaction from last night's games and all the build-up to this evening's round of 16 first legs.
All times CET
Wednesday, 17.09, UEFA.com newsdesk
Kick-off in St Petersburg is under an hour away. Follow the action from the Stadion Petrovskiy and, later, San Siro in the MatchCentre. That is it as far as the blog is concerned this week. It will return on Monday with a look ahead to the second batch of round of 16 ties: PFC CSKA Moskva v Real Madrid CF, SSC Napoli v Chelsea, Olympique de Marseille v FC Internazionale Milano and FC Basel 1893 v FC Bayern München.
Wednesday 16.22, UEFA.com newsdesk
For a wealth of domestic and European statistics, historical background and much more relating to tonight's games in Russia and Italy, download a match press kit.
Wednesday 15.40, UEFA.com newsdesk
Following up Richard Aikman's comment about Boateng's possible return from injury for Milan, the Ghanaian midfielder's presence may help ensure the goals flow at San Siro – at least going on the statistic that the three previous games he has played against Arsenal have produced a total of 14 goals. Two were north London derbies for Tottenham – a 2-1 league away defeat in December 2007, then a 5-1 home success in the League Cup semi-final a month later. There was later a 4-1 home reverse suffered with Portsmouth FC in December 2009.
Wednesday 15.15, Richard Aikman in Milan
In the last two weeks this part of the world has seen its heaviest level of snowfall since 1984. It is 5C in Milan at present but by kick-off this evening temperatures are expected to drop to around freezing, though it seems nobody told the short-sleeved hordes that boarded my flight from London this morning.
The big question, of course, is which of tonight's adversaries will freeze – the seven-time continental champions who appear to have developed a UEFA Champions League cold or a Gunners outfit described yesterday by Clarence Seedorf as "unpredictable" and "worthy of respect".
The mere presence of Van Persie – who has already plundered 22 Premier League goals this season, in addition to three in five UEFA Champions League sorties – guarantees respect but perhaps the most interesting Arsenal player on view will be Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. He has only made six appearances in the Premier League (scoring twice) and two in Europe in his fledgling Gunners career, but such has been his impact he is already being mentioned in terms of making the cut for England's squad at UEFA EURO 2012.
Wednesday 14.30, Richard van Poortvliet in St Petersburg
I arrived in St Petersburg around an hour ago and to be honest it does not feel all that cold, even though the temperature is hovering around the -10C mark. Russia has been in the midst of a deep freeze over the last couple of weeks and on Monday the temperature dipped as low as -32C in Moscow. The weather, slowly but surely, is getting warmer, but we can expect it to become a lot colder nearer kick-off, as the sun will have set a long time before with the game starting at 21.00 local time.
This match has been greatly anticipated by Zenit fans for a number of reasons. It is the first time their club have made it through to the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League, and also the first competitive game the Russian Premier League leaders, and reigning champions, will have played in over two months due to the winter break. These supporters are more than used to watching their team play in sub-zero temperatures and the atmosphere at a sold-out Stadion Petrovskiy should be fantastic.
Wednesday 14.15, Richard Aikman en route to Milan
On paper, Milan appear to be flying high in Serie A, two points clear of Juventus at the top after their comeback win at fourth-placed Udinese Calcio last weekend. In truth, though, the Rossoneri were fortunate to come away with those three points after being repeatedly picked apart at the back by the Zebrette. Before that the Italian champions had lost two and drawn one of their previous three matches.
On the plus side, they welcome back Zlatan Ibrahimović, who is serving a domestic suspension, and is the club's undisputed talisman. The 30-year-old has scored 15 goals from 19 league appearances and another four in the UEFA Champions League this season – and Arsenal fans might recall him scoring twice for Barcelona against the Gunners in the quarter-finals of the competition two seasons ago.
Milan could also have back tonight the trio of Pato, Alessandro Nesta and Kevin-Prince Boateng, who have been suffering injuries. Boateng, once of Tottenham, has been particularly effective this term and the drive and dynamism he brings in midfield has been missed during his month out.
Wednesday 13.40, Paul Bryan in Madrid
The Catalan daily Sport pays tribute to Barcelona forward Alexis Sánchez whose two goals helped his team to victory in Leverkusen. In reference to the European champions' faltering domestic campaign, the paper features a cartoon showing the Chilean holding aloft a box of pills labelled 'Alexina' with the caption: "Have you been suffering with migraine? Take two Chilean aspirins and forget about your Liga headaches."
Wednesday 13.30, Steffen Potter in Leverkusen
Picking over the bones of Leverkusen's defeat by Barcelona last night, the German press can find few crumbs of comfort. "One courageous half" was not enough according to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung which argues that the hosts' second-half improvement did not make up for the "submissive" display that preceded it.
"The performance in the first half was too bad for that and the improvement in the second half not big enough," it says. "After 45 minutes Leverkusen had 22% possession, no shots on goal, no shots, no corners – not even an offside position did they manage."
The Cologne-based Express remarks that "the best team in the world dominated Leverkusen at will – and they didn't even have their 'brain' Xavi with them". It describes Leverkusen disappearing "into their shells" and Frankfurter Rundschau makes a similar point when it talks of the "exaggerated respect" showed by Robin Dutt's team even if they stifled Barcelona for a period. The conclusion? "First they lacked courage, then luck and in the end, class."
Wednesday 13.00, Dmitri Rogovitski in Moscow
However cold the conditions in St Petersburg, Sovetski Sport warns that Benfica appear formidable opponents for Zenit. "The Portuguese are currently at the peak of their form. Benfica are playing their best football in many years and they haven't lost a single match in their league winning the last eight of them.
"If we count in Zenit's latest injuries, the visitors have more chances of winning at the Petrovskiy," it adds. "They are in better physical shape, while Zenit are just back from the winter break. Zenit's only advantage apart from the home ground factor are the fact that Luciano Spalletti's men have prepared for this one match for about a month, so they should have studied their opponents thoroughly."
Wednesday 12.35, José Nuno Pimentel in Lisbon
"Ice war" is A Bola's headline on a front page that features SL Benfica's Spanish forward Rodrigo training in St Petersburg yesterday – his eyes and nose peeking out of a balaclava. The paper goes on to anticipate that coach Jorge Jesus will field just one striker against FC Zenit St Petersburg and that "Rodrigo should be the one".
Record uses the same photo and the headline "Rodrigo: the weapon to melt the ice" – another reference to the -15C temperature in St Petersburg. Porto-based newspaper O Jogo offers its own comment on the freezing conditions: "It might be sun, snow or rain but for Jorge Jesus there is only one goal today at Stadion Petrovskiy: victory." And his lineup, the paper adds, "will be chosen according to the weather conditions".
Wednesday 12.20, John Leonidou in Nicosia
"Legends, now it's your turn!" declares Cyprus's Goal newspaper today in the wake of APOEL's narrow defeat at Lyon, which leaves hope alive for the second leg.
"As the minutes dragged on and the 1-0 scoreline remained the same, it appeared that APOEL were looking to keep it that way. The way the game unfolded with the Cypriot side unable to threaten the Lyon goal – with the exception of Manduca's shot on 87 minutes – it looked like the desired result for them in the end. And so it ended with APOEL leaving the Stade de Gerland with the same score they took from FC København, Partizan Belgrade and Wisła Kraków. Does that ring a bell?"
APOEL, for those who do not know, lost 1-0 away to all three of those teams in the past three seasons, before turning the tie around in the second leg. Sport Day is confident that they can do the same again. "The party starts on March 7," it says. "With Aílton and Manduca expected to be fitter and with the support of 20,000 supporters, anything is possible at the GSP."
Wednesday 11.50, Paolo Menicucci in Milan
"Claws out" is the headline on the front page of Gazzetta dello Sport with a big picture of Zlatan Ibrahimović from yesterday's training session. Looking ahead to Arsenal's visit, the paper says: "Arsenal are exactly the right opponents for Milan now. There were weaker sides in the draw and Arsenal can surely go all the way in the competition but Milan need a severe test – not an impossible one like Real Madrid would be in this period of the season – to really understand their strength.
"Wenger can teach football and he survived the departures of Nasri and Fàbregas by building a strong new side around his two class acts, Van Persie and the less acclaimed Song."
Wednesday, 11.20, UEFA.com newsdesk
You can find the reaction from both camps to last night's game at the Stade de Gerland on UEFA.com. Our reporter heard the views of Kim Källström, Hugo Lloris and Alexandre Lacazette of Lyon and APOEL's William Boaventura and Aílton. According to Boaventura, APOEL will be even more formidable opponents in Cyprus: "It will be a different story back in Nicosia."
Wednesday 11.00, Christian Châtelet in Paris
Le Progrès is appreciative of the contribution made by visitors APOEL to last night's match in Lyon – and notes that the Ligue 1 side have a fight on their hands, despite the 1-0 first-leg win. "A genuine wall was built in Lyon's way last night. It was as they had imagined it though the reality went beyond their expectations. This was a hard-fought game, sometimes boiling even, with an impressive pack of APOEL fans who invaded the stands. Gerland even fell a bit shaken up by these special visitors."
Wednesday 10.40, UEFA.com newsdesk
Staying with Arsenal's Italian test tonight, there is scepticism in some sectors of the English press about whether Arsène Wenger's side can repeat their feat of four years ago by winning at San Siro. "They may need to rediscover the kind of streetwise edge that has been missing far too often since that last encounter with Milan, arguably Arsenal's last great knockout victory in Europe," writes the Guardian.
The same newspaper adds that "it is a reflection of the upheaval they have since encountered that only one player from the starting XI, Sagna, will be in Wenger's lineup this time" and the Independent notes that the changes since have not been for the better. "The feeling remains that the team that knocked out Milan four years ago was a stronger side than the one Arsène Wenger will field in the sub-zero temperatures of San Siro tonight."
Wednesday 10.20, Richard Aikman en route to Milan
Though this has been a disappointing domestic campaign by Arsenal's standards there is a cautious optimism about their side's chances among supporters gathering at Heathrow airport to catch the flight to Malpensa. The Gunners are already out of the title race with three months to go and are also in danger of failing to qualify for the UEFA Champions League for the first time in 15 seasons.
Yet Robin van Persie's outstanding form, the Midas effect of Thierry Henry and the recapture of fourth place in the Premier League suggest a side rediscovering its former self. Per Mertesacker is out after suffering suspected ankle ligament damage at the weekend, but his injury coincides with the long-awaited return of full-backs Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs, which means Vermaelen and Laurent Koscielny can finally reunite in central defence. Could their luck be turning?
Wednesday 10.05, Alessandro Massimo in Milan
In the Arsenal press conference last night, Thomas Vermaelen paid tribute to Thierry Henry, who marked the last appearance of his loan from New York Red Bulls with a 90th-minute winner on Saturday against Sunderland AFC. Vermaelen spoke highly of the striker's impact at the Arsenal Stadium during his short second spell in north London, saying: "He has a great influence on his team-mates on the field but also off it, too. There are a lot of young players in our squad and he's able to give us lots of experience."
Wednesday 10.00, UEFA.com newsdesk
The UEFA Champions League resumed last night with wins for holders FC Barcelona at Bayer 04 Leverkusen and Olympique Lyonnais against APOEL FC; tonight brings the second two round of 16 first-leg ties.
First up is the opening leg in the FC Zenit St Petersburg-SL Benfica tie, which starts at 18.00CET. Zenit have several players on the sidelines, notably Danny and Aleksandr Bukharov, and have not played competitively since matchday six, but coach Luciano Spalletti has every confidence in those he picks to deputise, saying: "The lack of an important player is likely to harm the team, but we have strong replacements – the proof of that was late last year."
After that, AC Milan host Arsenal FC aiming to avoid elimination against English opposition for the third season running at this stage. Rossoneri coach Massimiliano Allegri, who was in charge for last term's 1-0 aggregate loss to Tottenham Hotspur FC, noted that Arsenal's "attack is very dangerous" but stressed: "We don't have an inferiority complex against English teams."
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