Arsenal best off drawing Barcelona in Champions League
The difference between winning a Champions League group and progressing to the knockout stages as runner-up appears bigger than ever this season, with Arsenal now facing a monumental task to go any further in the competition.
Should Arsenal have drawn or won in Napoli, the likes of Olympiakos, Zenit St Petersburg and Schalke would have been among the possible opposition in the last 16.
Instead, having gone through in second place in Group F, Arsenal have the joys of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Bayern Munich or PSG in the knockout rounds.
Thierry Henry simply shook his head when asked what team Arsenal would be best facing, while Gary Neville changed subject like an experienced politician to talk about how the Gunners should be pleased just to have got this far after making it though the most competitive group, alongside speaking of how the Premier League is their main priority.
Arsenal’s odds are now 8/13 to be eliminated at the last-16 stage of the Champions League, while their price has drifted to 20/1 to be crowned tournament winners.
As for who the Gunners would have the most chance of beating, none of this quintet qualified with less than PSG’s 12 points and so this could be a reason to face them, while Atletico Madrid may be deemed to have the fewest star players.
Given Real Madrid have scored 20 goals across their last four home games and at least two in all of their six Champions League group outings, they would be very hard to contain and there have to be doubts as to whether Arsenal have enough attacking armoury to go toe-to-toe with Cristiano Ronaldo and co.
Manchester City may have won at Bayern Munich in their final group-stage game in the Champions League, but the defending champions still seem the team to beat again and hence, must be avoided.
Meanwhile, Barcelona have lost two of their last four games in all competitions, Lionel Messi is encountering injury problems and as a result is far from guaranteed to start and there is a proven tactical way of nullifying the Catalan giants.
In their six Champions League away games in 2013, the only one Barca have won was an edgy 1-0 at Celtic and they arguably should have gone out in the knockout rounds to both PSG and AC Milan last season, before eventually being steamrolled by Bayern.
Throw in that Barca needed until the final game of a relatively easy foursome to be confirmed as group winners and there is a case that the current team is not quite flowing in the same manner as those of recent years.
After all, AC Milan are lingering down in ninth in Serie A, 22 points behind leaders Juventus, and Ajax are in pursuit of surprise table-toppers Vitesse in the Eredivisie, showing the domestic struggles of Barcelona’s main Group H rivals, that they had difficulty disposing.
Arsenal must be stronger than this pair and should they continue to perform to their current level, the opportunity is there for them to potentially progress to the quarter finals.