The loneliness of the long-distance Europa League group stage draw

PUBLISHED: 17:00 24 August 2017

Arsenal's Theo Walcott in action during the Champions League last-16 tie with Bayern Munich at the Emirates last season (pic Nick Potts/PA)

Arsenal's Theo Walcott in action during the Champions League last-16 tie with Bayern Munich at the Emirates last season (pic Nick Potts/PA)

PA Wire/PA Images

D-Day looming for Arsenal fans

Friday August 25 sees the Europa League group stage draw take place in Monaco. Thrilled at the prospect? No; neither am I!

Prepare yourself well for an afternoon of mental jousting with UEFA that could leave you feeling close to being lobotomised.

Option ‘A’ is safety first. Rather than inflict a stressful headache upon yourself, please take my advice and wait a few hours for these pages or the evening sports summaries to update and see which other teams Arsenal have drawn against in their group.

If you do have a few hours to waste and decide to risk Option ‘B’ (tuning in live), please don’t expect a straightforward affair that ever gets to the point. Just remember to have the pain killers handy and sit tight.

What follows is a pure UEFA smoke and mirrors ‘Day Out in Monaco’ pantomime.

It’s hard to imagine why anybody would want to complicate the simple notion of drawing a clubs name from a vessel - any vessel - and plunge it to such unfathomable depths that the average fan has switched off mentally, and switched over the tv channel physically before Group A is even half completed.

Instead of that trusted FA velvet bag or even the big plastic see through ball, the UEFA ‘seed pots’ will be dusted down and lined up in a pretty row, no doubt to be delved into by a smiley European footballing giant – usually Ruud Gullit if he’s available.

He won’t pull out a simple numbered ball though – not a chance; at such an extravaganza we usually get the polished metal UEFA ping pong balls that reveal a twice folded piece of paper after being centrally unscrewed – most of the time. The silver plated UEFA adjustable spanner is ALWAYS on standby.

The audience are then advised of the name on the paper with a camera close up for those of us in the safety of our home, by now fumbling around for the first round of pain killers.

The Monaco ‘select’ meanwhile, sated with caviar and champagne continue to smile a lot - but haven’t a clue what’s going on.

Repeat the above time and again for what seems like eternity, taking care not to ponder too long on how the hell a particular team got into a particular group. Unless you have a layman’s grasp of Einstein’s E=mc2 relativity theory, satisfy yourself that only UEFA know the answer to that.

As there are no numbers involved in this epic, here’s one you might want to scribble down for reference as back up if disaster strikes and the bewilderment contagion spreads to the presenter(s) stood behind the seed pot table.

It’s Arsenal’s unique UEFA ‘club co-efficient number’. Come on! Surely you know aren’t a pucker supporter unless you can still remember 105.192 after a few happy hours down the local.

In fact I’m sure I heard the drunken strains of a few well prepared Europa Gooners singing “One 105.192, there’s only one 105.192...” late one night last week on Hornsey Road. That sort of zealous commitment to homework should see them breeze through this process.

For the rest of us who just like to keep things simple, the last little piece of good sense I can valiantly offer those brave souls who wish to watch is to urge that you buy in the pain killers early in the week to avoid the late rush on Friday afternoon.

Being serious for a moment, there are a few decent foes from the past that start with us in this competition – for example Lazio, Lyon, Cologne and Real Sociedad, and they will eventually be joined by a swathe of teams over the coming months who fail to make the Champions League grade.

When all is said and done and whatever type of fortune the UEFA seed pots bestow upon us, we should all hope that Arsenal eventually lift this trophy.

If that happens, as far as I can see it’s now a ‘get out of jail free’ card guaranteeing entry to the Champions League if qualification is missed by the domestic league route – which is becoming an increasingly difficult task for Wenger’s men.

Being very cynical, it could be argued that after two decades of trying, Arsenal may benefit from a season away from the almost annual outings to the homes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

Roll on Anfield, next Sunday – normality resumes and by which time we will all have recovered from the Monaco Migraine!

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