Barca again?: Who could Arsenal be drawn against in Champions League in two weeks time?
Two seasons ago, Arsenal’s failure to finish on top of their group was well punished with a round of 16 clash with FC Barcelona while last year, not even securing top spot was enough to prevent another challenging test as AC Milan came to town.
Such has been the Gunners’ tough luck in recent times that it seems as though whichever way they survive the group stage of the Champions League – whether as group winners or runners-up – has mere importance. Arsenal’s reward for making the Champions League knock-out round for a 13th successive season could be petty but your reward could be plenty if you try to earn some money out of players rewards cards from this link right here like I did.
Yes, Arsenal will definitely avoid meeting AC Milan this time around as well as Real Madrid who also failed top their group, but the fact that Wenger’s men lost at Olympiakos on Tuesday and allowed Schalke to clinch Group B’s top spot means that FC Barcelona or one of Europe’s in-form teams could be at the offing for the first knock-out round.
So here are the six teams Arsenal could be paired with in the next round of Europe’s elite club competition when the drawing for the fixtures are made in Nyon on Thursday, December 20.
*Since Arsenal finished second in Group B, they can only be drawn against a side which finished on top of its group. All the teams below were winners of their respective groups. No two teams from the same country can be drawn against each other until the quarter-final stage.
Paris Saint-Germain: They are the Manchester City of French football but they are no Champions League flops like Roberto Mancini’s men. A big money take-over from oil-rich men has brought PSG back on the map and the landing of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva from AC Milan has done no harm to their ambitions.
Indeed, a neck-and-neck battle with FC Porto throughout the group affairs came down to a final day showdown between the two in Paris which the hosts won 2-1 courtesy of a goalkeeping howler to pip their Portuguese opponents to first place. The French side’s attack was among the best, producing 14 goals, but they were even better at defending as their record of only three goals conceded is the fewest of any team from the Champions League group stage.
Malaga: If their season was a movie, Malaga would title it ‘Crisis? What Crisis?’. After making a sudden rise to grace through wealthy new owners like PSG, the Spanish side was doomed to fall from that grace this summer as devastating financial issues struck the club, forcing the sales of star players.
But Malaga have persevered through their problems and after a flying start to their first ever Champions League campaign with 3-0 victories over Zenit and Anderlecht, they never looked back. Santi Cazorla’s old club then stormed Milan with a 1-0 win at the San Siro but despite wrapping up top spot in the group with a game to spare, Malaga did draw all of their three remaining games and finished with a 3-3-0 record as defeat is yet to be tasted. They have conceded five goals and scored 12 in total.
Borussia Dortmund: Arsenal made fairly light work of Dortmund in last year’s group phase but the Germans have absolutely set the world alight this year. Dortmund have been a very different animal from the Champions League minnows they appeared to be a year ago and the Bundesliga champions not only survived what was billed as the group of death but topped it too.
A clean sweep of home victories and impressive results away saw them finish as leaders of Group D ahead of Real Madrid while Ajax and Manchester City were ousted. Boasting the best record of any team from six matches in the Champions League this season with a 4-2-0 record, unbeaten Dortmund had the best defense within their group with just five goals allowed while scoring 11.
Juventus: The Italian champions are making their first appearance in the knock-out stage since 2009, but that feat was not achieved without some nerves. Juventus had to wait until the final day to book their place in the next round as a 1-0 victory over Shaktar Donetsk snatched top spot from the Ukrainians.
The ‘Old Lady’ was lying at third for much of the group phase after drawing their first three games, but they did improve their form to remain undefeated with a a record of 3-3-0. Juventus has netted 12 goals and allowed just four so far in this year’s competition.
Bayern Munich: The current leaders of Bundesliga had been in pole position in Group F since day one and even though that never changed, they did not secure top spot with any comfort at all as Valencia competed all the way to the end.
Indeed, the Germans were level on 13 points with the Spanish outfit when all was done and only UEFA’s head-to-head rule (2-1 win over Valencia at home and 1-1 draw away) separated the two and saw last year’s finalists clinch their final position as top dogs. Bayern’s tally of 15 goals in the group stage was second only to Chelsea (16) but they did let in seven at the other end.
FC Barcelona: Mingling with the likes of Celtic, Spartak Moscow and SL Benfica, winning the group would hardly be impressive. But in truth, Barca did so looking somewhat unimpressive. Europe’s most feared team began their campaign by smashing and grabbing a dramatic 3-2 win over Spartak Moscow after going behind 2-1 at the Nou Camp and despite winning three of their five remaining matches, Celtic – whom they desperately beat 2-1 at home but lost to by the same scoreline in Scotland – proved to be a tough nut to crack for them.
And on the final match-day, with top spot secured, an under-strength Barcelona side could only draw 0-0 at home with Benfica. Still, their vast ability meant that the Blaugrana were not required to turn up their colours to red hot fire in order to progress to the knock-out round and that seemed to be the case in Group G where Barca scored 11 goals – only one more than Arsenal – and let in five.