We are assured Champions league football, but how will we get to the group stages?
Arsenal face the very real possibility of finishing fourth. We have to better City’s result on the weekend to stop this happening. Frankly, although it is possible, I doubt that we will. Even if City do drop points, our recent form suggests that we will not be able to take advantage of it. So, what happens if we finish 4th? We will (like 2 seasons ago) enter the play-off round of the Champions League. We will play two legs against an opponent from the following list:
Benfica, Dynamo Kyiv, Twente, Rubin Kazan, Villarreal, Udinese/Lazio, Bayern Munich and one from Marseilles/Lyon/Rennes/Sochaux/PSG
It is worth noting that this list is not finalised. These are the teams that are expected to make it to this stage of the competition. Bayern Munich is clearly the team to avoid. Amidst the doom and gloom of our frustrating end to the season, there is a silver lining. We will be playing champions league football next year, and we will not have to face the likes of Robben in order to make it to the group stages. Once the teams are confirmed, the UEFA coefficient will seed the top five teams. Each of the top 5 teams each be matched against one of the bottom 5 teams. Arsenal’s coefficient will only be bettered by that of Bayern’s, so we will definitely be seeded. Hence, it is not possible for us to play them. This means that it is highly likely that we will play one of the following teams:
Udinese/Lazio, Rubin Kazan, Twente, a team that has progressed from a previous champions league play-off round, and one from Marseilles/Rennes/Paris Saint-Germain/Sochaux.
This information makes for better reading. That said, even if we are to face a team such as Twente, this does not necessarily grant us automatic entrance to the group stages. We still need to win the tie, and if we fail to do so, we will enter the group stages of the Europa league (surely not…). Of couse, a lot of what I have said in this article is rather hypothetical. For all I know, we could still finish third and not have to worry about any of this. Let’s hope that we can finish the season with a win and overtake CIty.
Messi is the man to watch
This was the game we all wanted to avoid. Nobody wants to play the biggest name in European Football at the first knockout stage.
There were only four possible teams we could play. Real Madrid would be very tough opponents, and Bayern Munich reached the final last season. I wanted to draw FC Shalke…
But it seems that this season is not going to be our season in the Champions League. I highly doubt that we can beat Barcelona over 2 legs. Lionel Messi will run riot on our leaky defense, especially if Vermaelen has not recovered from his injury. 4 goals last time out, and already on an astonishing 27 goals this season, he will always be the one to watch in this fixture.
It is possibly that we will be knocked out of the Champions League before Spurs, who drew AC Milan.We are having a really bad day!
The Champions League fixtures for the round of 16 are as follows:
Roma v Shakhtar Donetsk
AC Milan v Tottenham Hotspur
Valencia v Schalke
Inter Milan v Bayern Munich
Lyon v Real Madrid
Arsenal v Barcelona
Marseille v Manchester United
FC Copenhagen v Chelsea
The first legs of the round of 16 will be played on 15th, 16th, 22nd and 23rd February, and the second legs will be played on 8th, 9th, 15th and 16th March 2011.
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.