Arsenal will be anxious to avoid Ukraine trip in Champions League draw
- Credit: EMPICS Sport
Arsene Wenger was veering towards the realm of understatement when he ruminated on Arsenal’s prospects of Champions League qualification this week.
The Gunners will discover on Friday the identity of the team they must overcome in a two-legged qualifier to maintain their perfect attendance record at Europe’s top table since 1998.
“It’s difficult, it’s a stressful situation, but we did fight very hard to be in that situation and now it’s time to take advantage of the fact we finished fourth and we have an opportunity to qualify,” said the Arsenal boss.
“Of course it’s always a very tricky period but we have the experience – we have done it before.”
Wenger might have added that not only have Arsenal emerged unscathed from the qualifying round before, they have done so on each of the five occasions it has been required of them.
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Dinamo Zagreb, Sparta Prague, FC Twente, Celtic and Udinese have all been safely dispatched in previous years, and Wenger will feel reasonably confident of extending that record.
With that said, although the seeding system means the draw is weighted in Arsenal’s favour – they cannot face AC Milan, Schalke, Lyon or Zenit St Petersburg – they may still be required to deal with a tricky journey into the unknown.
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In travelling terms, the Gunners’ worst case scenario would be a pairing with Ukrainian side Metalist Kharkiv – especially if they were drawn away in the first leg on August 20/21, a few days before their lunchtime kick-off at Fulham.
Kharkiv, who defeated PAOK Salonika 3-1 on aggregate in their third qualifying round tie, are regular entrants in the Europa League and reached the quarter-finals in 2012.
They would represent new opposition for the Gunners – as would little-known Portuguese outfit Pacos de Ferreira, who reached the qualifying round by achieving their best-ever league placing of third last season.
So would Real Sociedad, who finished fourth in La Liga last year and are returning to European competition for the first time since they reached the last 16 of the Champions League in 2003.
If Arsenal were drawn against Sociedad, it would mean a return to the Emirates for Mexican striker Carlos Vela, whose seven-year stint with the Gunners finally ended when he moved to Spain in a £4m deal last summer.
The Gunners’ other possible opponents are Turkish side Fenerbahce and former European champions PSV Eindhoven.
Arsenal have met the Dutch team in the Champions League on three previous occasions, claiming a win and a draw in the group stage during both the 2002-03 and 2004-05 campaigns.
However, the Gunners’ European hopes were ended in 2007 when they suffered a 2-1 aggregate defeat to PSV, with Alex scoring at both ends in the second leg – a 1-1 draw at Emirates Stadium.