Whilst Arsenal secured fourth place in the Premier League on Sunday, they still have a couple of matches to negotiate before they make the Champions League group stage. Who could they face in their qualifying tie?
Although the Champions League play-off round is generally a nuisance, rather than a genuine threat to English team’s hopes of making it into the group stage, there have been a couple of recent occasions when teams have come close to falling at the final hurdle.
Tottenham Hotspur made a meal of beating Young Boys Bern in their one venture into the Champions League, whilst Arsenal themselves had a couple of jitters against Udinese the last time they had to qualify.
The format now means Arsenal go straight into a play-off round, in which there will be twenty teams in total facing off for the last ten spots in the group stage. Five team go straight into this round, with Arsenal already joined by Schalke, AC Milan, Portuguese team Pacos de Ferreira, and set to welcome either of Real Sociedad or Valencia from Spain.
The 20 teams will be divided into two groups of ten, one for Champions and one for non-Champions. Each group will be seeded, so the five teams with the highest coefficients will avoid one another.
Arsenal will have to highest coefficient of any team in the playoff round, and so will avoid many of the other stronger teams in the non-Champions section of the draw. Along with the four teams listed above, there will be five teams from the third qualifying round in the pot.
Clearly they still have to qualify, but teams likely to make it through include Zenit St Petersburg, Fenerbahce, PSV Eindhoven, Metalist Kharkiv and whoever finishes third in France this year, which will be one of Lyon, Lille and St-Etienne, most probably the former.
Milan and Schalke will certainly be seeded along with Arsenal, meaning the Gunners’ biggest threats are likely to be Zenit, Fenerbahce, PSV and whoever finished third in the French league. Assuming Arsenal strengthen well before the matches, they should have little difficulty in booking themselves a place in the group stages once again.
image: © andyjakeman