Thoughts on Champions League Group Stages
With the games concluded yesterday, another set of UEFA Champions League group stage fixtures came to an end, with 16 teams moving to the Knockout Phase, the likes of Tottenham advancing to the Europa League to meet Manchester United and the rest of that lot and of course, eight teams sent out of Europe entirely.
For the first time in five seasons, Arsenal topped their group (thanks to the valiant Balkan heroes of Ludogorets Razgard) alongside perennial group winners, Barcelona but there were some teams that finished in pole position which makes this season’s competition quite interesting. The likes of Atletico Madrid and Juventus have been Euorpean superpowers in the past, with Atletico winning a couple of Europa Leagues and coming really close to winning the big one in two quick successions but it was interesting seeing the likes of Napoli, Dortmund, Monaco and the season’s surprise package, Leicester City.
As for the runner ups, it was a pleasant surprise seeing Bayern Munich and Real Madrid in second place, while PSG’s final position in Group A was their own doing. Having gotten the result they wanted at the Emirates, drawing at home to Ludogorets was a disgrace, not like Arsenal fans care. Then there was Benfica, Manchester City, Leverkusen, Porto and Sevilla.
Due to the fact that Arsenal cannot meet an English team in the quarterfinals, we can scratch Man City and Leicester as teams that the Gunners wouldn’t face till the quarterfinals at least, but there are six other teams that could be paired with Arsene Wenger’s side
- SL Benfica
- Bayern Munich
- Bayer Leverkusen
- FC Porto
- Sevilla and
- Real Madrid
Looking at that list, every typical Arsenal would want to avoid the defending champions, Real Madrid and of course, Bayern Munich. The Bavarians haven’t set the world alight under their new manager, Carlo Ancelotti, but their record against the Gunners is quite staggering with Arsenal dropping by the roadside when both teams clash in the knockout stages. Both teams met in the group stages last season with the Gunners getting a famous result at the Emirates but the return leg was disastrous with the Munich-based outfit thumping five past Petr Cech.
It’s quite interesting to know that Arsenal finished the group stage unbeaten and the last time Arsenal did this, they were paired in the same group with FC Thun, Sparta Prague and Ajax Amsterdam. They beat Real Madrid in the knockout phase before easing past Juventus in the quarterfinals. Then there was the business of saving a certain Juan Roman Riquelme penalty in the semis before the fairy tale ended on a sad note in Paris. Jens Lehmann’s consecutive clean sheet record still stands till this day.
The draws will be out on Monday and we will wait patiently to see who we will be paired against.
Until then, there is the business of Stoke City to take care of over the weekend.
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