Saturday 24 February 2018

Gunners hoping to avoid Barca clash

Simon Stone

Arsenal will find out the price that must be paid for their failure to secure top spot in their Champions League group today, with favourites Barcelona among their four potential last-16 opponents.

That the Gunners ended up needing to win their final match against Partizan Belgrade to progress to the first knockout round after winning three matches on the trot at the start of Group H, is being blamed mainly on Arsene Wenger's decision to rotate his squad before qualification was assured.

Wenger might reflect that he got it wrong should his team end up facing Barca for the second successive year.

The Catalan giants dismantled Arsenal at the quarter-final stage last term, when a 6-3 aggregate defeat flattered the Londoners.

As Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid and last season's beaten finalists Bayern Munich are also potential opponents, Wenger will presumably hope for a pairing with Schalke, who finished above Lyon in Group B but find themselves languishing in 10th spot in the Bundesliga table, having suffered seven defeats. "We'll take what we get," Wenger said. "The difficulty might be more or less, but it is part of the draw."

While Arsenal look ahead with trepidation, north London rivals Tottenham await the outcome of a draw that will be jointly conducted by Bobby Charlton and Ronnie Whelan with relish.

They could encounter Valencia, who had two closely fought tussles with Manchester United but lack star quality since the departures of David Villa and David Silva, plus Roma and current Serie A leaders AC Milan.

However, Harry Redknapp is presumably hoping for FC Copenhagen, who have become the first Danish side to reach the knockout stages. The same will also be true of Manchester United -- who, like Tottenham could face French duo Marseille and Lyon -- and Chelsea.

There is also plenty of British representation in the Europa League, with Liverpool, Manchester City and Rangers all in the hat for the last 32.

Rangers could be pitched into a second 'Battle of Britain' this season, having failed to secure a top seeding -- and a second-leg at home -- with their record in finishing third behind Manchester United and Valencia.

Sevilla, victors in 2006 and 2007, are probably the most dangerous non-seeds, although, if only on geographical grounds, Belarus' BATE Borisov and Metalist Kharkiv of the Ukraine are teams to be avoided.

Aside from City and Liverpool, FC Porto are also heavily fancied for the competition as a whole, as are Zenit St Petersburg.

Champions League draw,

Live, Sky Sports News/Setanta Irl, 11.0

Irish Independent

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