UCL: Breaking Down Arsenal’s Potential Opponents in the Round of 16
After six matchdays of grueling Champions League football, the men have been separated from the boys as we anxiously wait for the Round of 16 draws. Arsenal was paired in a group that had last season’s finalists, Borussia Dortmund, Italian heavyweights, SSC Napoli, and French juggernauts, Olympique Marseille.
All four teams locked horns against each other but L’ OM struggled the most losing all six games to their illustrious opponents to earn their rightful place in the bottom of the group. Arsenal, Dortmund and Napoli all managed to best each on several occasions which gave the group an exciting ending.
At the end of all six games, Dortmund, Arsenal and Napoli ended their group stage campaigns with 12 points each, but Dortmund won the group while the Gunners ended in second place. Napoli will have to plunge into the depths of Thursday night football, a competition Rafa Benitez is all too familiar with having won it with Valencia and Chelsea.
With the Gunners finishing the group as runners-up, they’re going to play their first leg encounter at the Emirates, before going away to whoever they will be paired against. The Gunners have had some historic nights at home but they have also had some disastrous outings away from home as well.
With Dortmund topping the group, as well as Manchester United and Chelsea winning their respective groups, Arsenal can only play one of the five other group winners.
Without further ado, here are the teams Arsenal could face off in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16;
FC Barcelona and Arsenal have their fair share of history in the Champions League. In recent times, the Gunners have locked on with the Spanish champions and have always come out second best on several occasions. The last time the Gunners managed a victory over Barcelona was in the 2010/11 season where Robin van Persie and Andrey Arshavin scored the goals that sent the Arsenal fans into euphoria. However, the Gunners put up a disastrous showing in the second leg, losing the game without managing a single shot on goal.
This season, Barcelona have been on a rich vein of form in their domestic league and Europe, winning 13 games from a possible 15 in the Liga BBVA while they ended their Champions League group stage campaign with 13 points, in a group that contained AC Milan, AFC Ajax and Glasgow Celtic.
They also boast of the best players in the world, and one can look no further than the dynamic attacking pairing of the world’s best player,
Nicklas Bendtner Lionel Messi and their new recruit from South America, Neymar. They also have demigods in midfield such as Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez but their defense isn’t all that.
Barcelona’s Chances Against Arsenal
Call me a pessimist but if the Gunners are paired with Barcelona, they are very likely to be knocked out of the competition. Barcelona’s quality is so immense and they pose goal threats from almost every playing position on the pitch with probably the exception of their goalkeeper.
Anytime the Gunners think about Real Madrid, that epic Thierry Henry run at the Santiago Bernabeu comes to mind. The king took the ball in midfield and glided past opposition defenders before placing the ball past Iker Casillas in goal. The Spanish heavyweights came to Highbury a fortnight later but they were quelled by some stellar Arsenal defending.
Several years later, the Gunners can be paired with the Spanish giants but this time, things have changed a whole lot. The Gunners don’t have a Thierry Henry-esque striker anymore and rely more on their midfielders to come up with the goods when things are down, while Real Madrid has an unstoppable force in Cristiano Ronaldo, a forerunner for this year’s Ballon D’Or awards.
Real Madrid under new manager, Carlo Ancelotti, are still in the chasing pack at Liga BBVA, and are currently in third place behind Barcelona and this season’s surprise package, Atletico Madrid. However, the Spanish side was invincible in their Champions League group with 16 points easing past Galatasaray, Juventus and FC Copenhagen.
Real Madrid’s Chances Against Arsenal
Real Madrid’s squad oozes quality in several playing positions and with Ronaldo in astonishing form, they could be more than a match for Arsenal. However, the Gunners could fancy their chances if they find a way to contain Ronaldo but the question remains – who can contain Cristiano Ronaldo? Many defenses have tried and failed woefully. I doubt if Arsenal would be any different.
FC Bayern Munich
After losing at home to Arsenal in last season’s Round of 16, FC Bayern went on a mad winning streak dispatching the likes of Juventus, FC Barcelona and Dortmund to win Europe’s elite club competition. They picked up where they left off this season with wins over CSKA Moscow, Victoria Plzen and Manchester City but the record was broken in grand style by a James Milner-inspired away performance from the Sky Blues.
The last time the Bavarians visited the Emirates, they were a class apart from the Gunners and their 3-1 victory was more than enough for the team to seal qualification to the quarterfinals even after a home defeat to the Gunners. In Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben, Bayern Munich has two of the most effective wingers in the business.
As expected, they have been too hot to handle in the Bundesliga, winning 13 games and drawing twice from 15 matches thus far. They still boast of an unbeaten record in their league as well and they recently showed their dominance over Dortmund when they spanked their rivals 3-0 in their own turf.
FC Bayern’s Chances Against Arsenal
Many can take solace from the fact that Manchester City proved that Bayern are certainly beatable but we are in the business end of the competition were every result counts and to be honest, I strongly believe that Bayern would edge out the Gunners if they’re paired together.
With the big-money sale of Radamel Falcao to AS Monaco, many believed that it was going to be the end for Atletico Madrid. After their years of dominance in the Europa League, they finally got things right in their domestic league and won a heated Copa del Rey final against fierce rivals, Real Madrid.
However, the sale of an indispensable player like Falcao seemed like a step in the wrong direction but they acquired the services of veteran striker, David Villa, and Diego Costa has stepped up the plate to be one of the most feared strikers in Europe. He has been subject to a dispute on the international scene after he requested to play for Spain despite featuring in two friendly games for Brazil.
Atletico is currently in second place in Liga BBVA and they are tied with Barcelona with the same points (40). In Europe, they earned 16 points from a group that had Zenit St. Petersburg, Porto and Austria Vienna and many pundits and journos alike are tagging them as the Dark Horses of the competition.
Atletico’s Chances Against Arsenal
Atletico may be high flying at the moment, but if they’re paired against the Gunners, they’d be in for the shock of their lives. They may be doing well in Liga BBVA and many have edged out from a relatively easy Champions League group, but the quality of their team is no where near Arsene Wenger’s charges. This is a draw I’m hoping for because the Gunners stand a big chance of ousting the Spaniards from the competition.
Paris St. Germain
You can’t talk about PSG without mentioning their poster boy, Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Ibra has played for a host of leading European clubs and has won many titles for these teams. His mecurial talents will certainly be missed in the forthcoming World Cup but club football continues to be amazed by his goalscoring exploits alongside Uruguayan hotshot, Edinson Cavani.
PSG are the forerunners to retain their Ligue 1 crown this season as they currently top the log with nine wins and four draws from 13 matches (they are unbeaten in their league like Bayern Munich). They also topped their Champions League group with 13 points, easing past Olympiakos, SL Benfica and Anderlecht.
PSG’s Chances Against Arsenal
PSG may boast about having arguably the hottest striking pairing in the business but their midfield is a class apart from Arsenal. The Gunners could dominate the French champions and we all know that Arsene Wenger has never lost to French opposition in the Champions League. If the Gunners get paired with PSG, I don’t believe that the trend would change.
Ending in second place puts the Gunners in a somewhat precarious situation as they could be paired with the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid or Bayern Munich, but the Gunners could also earn ‘favorable draws’ against Atletico or PSG, which will offer them a better chance of qualifying to the quarterfinals.
Nonetheless, it’s good to have qualified from that tough group and we await the draws to see how things will pan out.
Gooner Daily has been nominated for the Best Sports blog category in the 2013 Nigerian Blog Awards. Please vote!
You can download the Gooner Daily BlackBerry App to receive notifications on your Smart Phone when a post is published.
You can follow Gooner Daily on Twitter @goonerdaily. I’ll follow back
Feel free to visit Gooner Daily’s Facebook page and click on the like button.
You can also join Gooner Daily’s Mailing List to get notifications of new posts by email by clicking on the Follow button