Could Arsenal go through to Champions League even if they lose their play-off tie?

Fenerbahce

Fenerbahce could yet be kicked out of the Champions League. That could see the Gunners through regardless.

Arsenal now know who they will face in the play-off round of the Champions League - and it is certainly one of the teams they would have wanted to avoid.

The club are facing up to the reality of playing last season’s Europa League semi-finalists Fenerbahce, in a tough tie that will see them pit their wits against Premier League old boys such as Dirk Kuyt, Raul Meireles and Emre.

The idea of a tough away trip to Turkey in their first leg, on either the 20th or 21st August, will certainly not fill the team with mass amounts of confidence.

Fener are notoriously difficult to beat at their home stomping ground. The Sukru Saracoglu Stadium is one of the last bastions of intimidating original builds in European football - and the Turkish league runner-ups will be confident of getting a result in their home tie.

A week later they will travel to the Emirates to settle the tie - but another event that same week could decide the outcome of the tie - regardless of events on the pitch.

Fenerbahce are currently in the midst of an appeal process, against a two-year ban from European football.

The club, alongside domestic rivals Besiktas, were given the ban after convictions over match-fixing in July 2012.

However both clubs took their cases to the Court of Arbitration for Sport … and had the ruling suspended before an official, and final, decision is made.

For Fener, that decision will be made on August the 28th - potentially the same day they play at The Emirates, and just one day before the Group Stage draw.

So what could happen should Fener win the tie, but then receive their two year suspension?

There are three realistic scenarios.

First, is that they replay the tie - but with Red Bull Salzburg in Fener’s place. The Austrian outfit were the victims of Fenerbahce in the third round qualifying tie.

Second, is that they shift around the Turkish qualifiers and bring in the likes of Bursaspor and Kayserispor.

But both these options are highly problematic in terms of scheduling - in all likelihood, if Arsenal lose but Fener lose their appeal - Arsenal will receive a bye to the Champions’ League Group Stage.

At the moment the official word is that UEFA has ‘not yet made a decision on what would happen in the event of Fenerbahce winning the tie and losing their CAS appeal.’

To me - it seems like UEFA are winging it.

The likelihood is a bye - indeed a precedent can be found not far down the road. North London rivals Tottenham were given a bye to the UEFA Cup round of 16 in 2007, after Feyenoord were kicked out because of crowd trouble.

Of course that is slightly different to this case - as Feyenoord had not actually beaten Spurs. But it was a knockout tie rather then qualification for the Group Stage - so still it remains likely Arsenal would possibly receive a bye.

So Arsenal could be through to the Champions’ League Group Stage - even if they lose to Fenerbahce.

But just to be safe - Arsenal fans will hope they win.

image: © mertol

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