Arsenal qualified for the knockout stage of the Champions League for a record 11th successive season earlier this week, second in their group behind Shaktar Donetsk. Teams are not allowed to play other teams from their country in the first knockout round. Manchester United, Chelsea and Spurs all topped their groups, leaving Arsenal with only four possible opponents for the round of 16.
Arsenal will definitely be travelling to either Germany or Spain in February. The four possible teams we can draw are Barcelona (who have recently ended their history of refusing commercial shirt sponsorship as they signed a record £125m deal with the Qatar Foundation), Real Madrid, Bayern Munich or FC Shalke. Given a choice I think it is safe to say that all Arsenal fans would rather see the team to Munich or Gelsenkirchen (no, I don’t know where that is either…).
We don’t want a tough game at this stage of the competition, especially if Spurs draw an easy club. I refuse to go out of the Champions League at an earlier stage of our North London rivals!
However, there are some pros for us if we were to have a difficult draw. Firstly, a win would instil the necessary confidence to give the Gunners a boost in other competitions. Furthermore, Arsenal generally play better football against the better sides. This can be seen in our performances (not results) against Man City, Chelsea and Spurs this season. This year in the Champions League, we have faltered against less capable opposition. Perhaps a match against Real or Barca would prevent complacency.
Despite all this, after seeing Barca’s demolition of Real Madrid a few weeks ago, most people would agree that a draw against the Spainish champions would be likely to end in Arsenal’s European run.
Wenger gave a diplomatic response when asked which team he would prefer to play, “If it’s Barcelona, it is Barcelona. We played them last year. We will see.”
All will be revealed on Friday 17th December.