Saturday 17 March 2018

Why winning their Champions League group is so important for Arsenal's chances of lifting the trophy

Arsenal are already assured of reaching the last 16.CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES
Arsenal are already assured of reaching the last 16.CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

Ben Bloom

Arsenal host Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League knowing that victory will almost certainly determine which team tops group A and which team advances as runners-up.

Both sides are already assured of their place in the last 16 thanks to their vastly superior record over the two basement teams in the group.

So can Arsene Wenger's side relax in the certainty that they have done the hard work? Or is winning the group vital to Arsenal's hopes of progressing to the latter stages of the competition?

Analysis of the last 13 seasons (dating back to 2003/04 when the Champions League took on its current format) shows that teams who top their group stand a far greater chance of advancing to the quarter-finals than those who finish as runners-up.

Indeed, 72 per cent of group winners have been triumphant in their last-16 match, whereas only 28 per cent of runners-up have emerged victorious.

This table shows that, of the eight group winners to take their place in the second round since 2003/04, only once (in 2007/08) have they had an inferior record than the teams who finished runners-up.


While winning the group increases the chance of advancing beyond the last 16, what effect does it have as the competition progresses?

Well, the data suggests that topping the group continues to have a marked effect on the chances of going deeper and deeper in the competition.


Since 2003/04:

- 77 per cent of semi-finalists topped their group.

- 81 per cent of finalists topped their group.

- 77 per cent of eventual winners topped their group.

On the only three occasions that a runner-up has gone on to win the entire competition (Porto 03/04, Liverpool 04/05 and Inter 09/10), there were somewhat mitigating factors to their failure to finish top of groups that included European heavyweights in the form of Real Madrid in 03/04, the previous year's Champions League losing finalists Monaco in 04/05 and Barcelona in 09/10.

But what of Arsenal's recent Champions League history?

The past decade or so has suggested that if any team can buck the trend of group winners vs runners-up, it is Arsene Wenger's side - although that may not necessarily be a good thing.

While we have already seen that 72 per cent of group winners have made the quarter-finals, Arsenal have only managed to do so 50 per cent of the time, crashing out as group winners in the second round in 2004/05, 2006/07 and 2011/12. But that has to be anomaly, right?

Win the group, cross your fingers for an easy draw in the round of 16 and Wenger can sleep easy.

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