It might be two weeks since Arsenal booked their place in the play-off round of qualification for the Champions League with the 1-0 win at Newcastle United, but it was only last night that the last automatic qualifier for that stage was confirmed.
Real Sociedad’s 1-0 win away at Deportivo, coupled with Sevilla’s 4-3 win over Valencia (in which Alvaro Negredo scored four, something no doubt noted by Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur) saw Sociedad claim fourth spot and a place in the play-off round.
There will be twenty teams in that round, ten of which will be in the non-champions category, including Arsenal. Five of those sides, again including Arsenal, will be seeded based on their UEFA coefficients.
So far the other confirmed seeds are Milan and Schalke, who Arsenal will be pleased to avoid. Had Valencia qualified they would also have been seeded due to their high UEFA coefficient, which would have pushed one of the teams aiming to qualify from the previous round into the unseeded category.
This could well have been Zenit St Petersburg, who would have been a nightmare trip for Arsenal to start the season with, but with Real Sociedad in the pot, the Russian side will be in the seeded pot if they get through to the play-offs.
The last seeded team will be Lyon if they get through, again a good team for Arsenal to avoid. If the qualifying round goes with the favourites, Arsene Wenger’s team will face one of Real Sociedad, Pacos de Ferreira, PSV, Metalist Kharkiv and Fenerbahce.
There are some potential banana skins in there, and none of those sides will be push overs, but Arsenal fans will be reassured to see Zenit in the seeded pot, as the Russian team combine a long trip with an excellent group of players, as they showed by knocking Liverpool out in the Europa League this season.
Real Sociedad and Fenerbahce are perhaps the toughest trips left, and heading out to Ukraine to play Metalist would be unwelcome, but Arsenal should be able to see off any of those five sides, or indeed anyone who might spring a shock in the previous qualifying round.
image: © El Ronzo