Champions League draw: Arsenal to head to Milan, or Russia?
Italian champions are ones to avoid of Gunners’ seven possible last 16 opponents
Arsenal will find out their European fate on Friday when the last 16 draw for the Champions League is made in Switzerland at around 11am.
As group winners, the Gunners know they will avoid other top-placed teams such as Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and of course Barcelona, who knocked Arsenal out at this stage last season, and in the quarter-finals in 2010.
The seven second-placed teams who could possibly be drawn out alongside Arsenal are Napoli, CSKA Moscow, FC Basel, Lyon, Bayer Leverkusen, Zenit St Petersburg, and AC Milan.
While each would pose a threat to progress for Arsene Wenger’s side, there is little doubt that the club Arsenal would least want to meet at this stage is Milan.
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The seven-times winners of the European Cup may not be the force they were in reaching two finals in 2005 and 2007, but are reigning Italian champions and only came second due to the presence of Barcelona in Group H.
Of the other six, Lyon sealed their qualification last week with an astounding 7-1 victory in Zagreb over Dynamo which, coupled with Ajax’s 3-0 loss to Real Madrid, saw the French side edge through to the last 16.
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While both those clubs are well known to Wenger, there are some of Europe’s lesser lights also in the draw. CSKA Moscow’s stunning win over Internazionale in the San Siro last week saw them squeeze through from Group B, and a long trip to the Russian capital in February is one the Gunners would possibly prefer to avoid.
Zenit St Petersburg is a similarly arduous trip, although it is one Andrey Arshavin would be happy to make back to his former club.
Swiss side FC Basel, who stunned Manchester United last week, are also in the hat, as are Napoli, the impressive Italians who effectively accounted for Manchester City in Group A.
Bayer Leverkusen, runners-up to Chelsea in Group C, are the other possible opponents for the Gunners, who faced the Germans 10 years ago, beating them 4-1 at home but drawing 1-1 away.
By virtue of winning the group, the Gunners will be away in the first leg in February, with the all-important home advantage for the second leg.
With both Arsenal and Chelsea through to the next round, Wenger is optimistic about the draw and senses England’s capital could finally be home to the champions of Europe.
The Arsenal manager said: “We were close to winning the trophy, you face competition from all over Europe with some massive clubs but maybe this is London’s season, you never know.”
WHO GUNNERS CAN FACE
Zenit St Petersburg