Arsenal’s initial elation at having topped a Champions League group for the first time in five years has been choked after the Premier League club were given a daunting if familiar knockout tie against Bayern Munich in Monday’s draw in Nyon.
Arsène Wenger was out on the training pitch with his players at London Colney when confirmation came through that they must confront the opponents who eliminated them in the last 16 of the competition in 2013 and 2014, and behind whom they finished in their group last term. The draw has pitted Manchester City with Monaco and Leicester City against Sevilla, distinctly awkward opponents in their own right, although it is Arsenal who will feel they have been presented with the least favourable tie.
Wenger’s side have departed in the first knockout stage in each of the past six campaigns, to Milan, Monaco and twice each to Bayern and Barcelona, but he believes the quality of those teams in contention for the trophy has closed up. “No team is super, super favourite,” said the Frenchman, who has led Arsenal to this stage for 14 years in succession.
“Look, the last six years we have not come over the last 16. They say that God made the world in seven days and this is the seventh day for us, so we have to get a special day. We are all here to make history, so we have to change what happened before – and make it better.
“Every day you have to do that but the best way to have a momentum when we go into the Champions League is to be in a good position in the league [when the tie is played], so the belief is high. I am convinced that is absolutely vital because I have had experience of it. If we can keep our strength away from home, that can help us. Let’s have a good first game then we can finish the job at home.”
The draw, predicted mischievously by Bayern’s own official Twitter feed last week, appeared to be greeted almost with as much resignation as excitement by Arsenal’s players. “They already told me we always play Bayern in the Champions League,” Shkodran Mustafi said on social media, the Germany international having seen Carlo Ancelotti’s team return to the top of the Bundesliga over the weekend. They had finished second behind Atlético Madrid, last season’s beaten finalists, in their section, and will host the English club in the first leg at the Allianz Arena on 15 February.
Arsenal had edged out much-fancied opposition in Paris Saint-Germain in the final round of matches to take Group A, with the French club having now been cast into a mouth-watering tie against Barcelona in the next phase.
Manchester City will confront Ligue 1 opposition in Monaco, who prevailed home and away against Tottenham Hotspur in the group stage to contribute heavily to the London club slipping into the Europa League.
Leonardo Jardim’s side have proved prolific in their domestic league, where they have scored 53 times in 17 games and trail the leaders, Nice, by a point. “They are playing the best football in France right now, so this will be a very difficult game for us,” said the City director of football, Txiki Begiristain. “We are just happy to be here and we look forward to this tie.”
Leicester’s maiden Champions League campaign will take them to Sevilla, third in La Liga and winners of the Europa League for the last three seasons. “For us it is a tough but very exciting draw against a team who are used to fighting in Europe,” said Claudio Ranieri. “Whoever we played would have been a tough opponent but I think all the teams who arrived second will have wanted to play against us and I know that we will be the underdogs once again. Always we are underdogs, every time.
“I know that Sevilla have lifted the Europa League three times in three years – that is unbelievable. Now they are third in the league and have lost only three so far. They are a big, big, big team. They are very technical and very good. They are fighting to win the title with Real Madrid and Barcelona in Spain, so that tells you how good they are. For the fans I say ‘enjoy’ and that we will continue to fight to go as far as we can in the Champions League.”
The holders, Real Madrid, will play Napoli while Juventus were drawn against Porto. The two other Bundesliga clubs, Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund, will play Atlético Madrid and Benfica respectively.
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