Arsenal avoid the big names and will be favorites to advance
It was a good day to be an English team in the Champions League. For the most part, the Champions League draw proved yet again that UEFA never gets tired of its own sense of self-importance. It also proved that the people with a vote have no idea what qualifies as good goal-keeping, awarding the top honor to Edwin Van der Saar. But more than anything the draw suggested that four English teams will yet again be present in the knockout stages.
So let’s cut to the chase and discuss the only club that matters. Arsenal could have faced Real Madrid, Inter Milan, Lyon, Wolfsburg and numerous other top quality sides. None of them were drawn. Instead, Arsenal were paired with with AZ Alkmaar, Olympiacos, and Standard de Liege. True, all three teams were champions of their respective leagues, but two are making their Champions League debut and we will be solid favorites in all six group fixtures. Celtic were arguably equally challenging competition as any of these three and we were able to play our second leg against the Scottish side without several first team regulars. Granted, I have ugly memories of the last time we faced Dutch opposition in the Champions League. I can still see Alex rising above our defense from a free kick delivery to send us crashing out. But it’s hard to imagine a similar fate in this group.
This Champions League draw is also beneficial in that it doesn’t require any onerous travel. In the past we’ve been sent to Russia, the Ukraine, and Uranus, but this year Greece will be our most exotic destination. As the season moves along, the games come thick and fast. Excessive travel can prove a massive problem when there are important league games just two or three days later. Returning from Greece, Belgium and Holland shouldn’t be a problem.
Moreover, the teams that we’ve drawn play in developed nations with modern stadiums. It’s not uncommon for the pitch to play a role in a Champions League fixtures. But the stadiums that we’ll be visiting shouldn’t pose such a problem. That’s particularly important to a team like ours with a style that can be disrupted by a poor quality pitch. Based on the teams we’ll be facing and the locations we’ll be visiting, progression should be a simple matter of bringing our best side with the proper attitude. It’s a draw that strongly suggests we’ll be awaiting our place in another UEFA draw come late January.
The other English teams will be content with their draw, if not as content as Arsenal. Rather than wasting our time analysing their draws, you can simply click here to see the full group stage lineup. There will be a few interesting matchups in the group stage but the most intriguing games will see Kaka and Real Madrid visit AC Milan, and Eto’o and Inter visit Ibrahimovic and Barcelona. Otherwise, it’s another typical season of Champions League action.
That’s all that’s happening today. There’s no transfer news and no new fallout from “divegate” other than the usual anti-arsenal sentiment. I could spend some time discussing the United game but I’d rather do a full preview tomorrow after we’ve heard the boss’ comments. But today was another fortunate day for the Arsenal. Already this season we’ve had our share of luck go our way. I must say, it’s a welcome change and hopefully one that portends better things to come. It’s far too soon to count our Champions League chickens, but based on the group stage draw, another season in the knockout rounds should be within reach.