Arsene Wenger will return home to AS Monaco for the second leg of the Round of 16, as UEFA has finally agreed to relieve us of the Bayern ploy.
The Gooners had been in line to face any one of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Porto, Bayern Munich or Monaco, having finished second in Group D behind Dortmund on goal difference. Bayern Munich have been our opponents for consecutive seasons, and having failed to advance beyond them, it was the prayers of many Arsenal fans to avoid drawing the BundesLiga Champions for the third time.
Even Wenger acknowledged the difficulty such a draw would pose to us, choosing to spend his weekend in some cloister to maybe influence the outcome. And it seems that has worked after all, as Porto or Monaco was the obvious pick for most.
The French giants had visited the Emirates in August in the annual pre-season tournament, the Emirates Cup, beating us in the second game courtesy of a Radamel Falcao second half goal to seal victory of the tournament. The Champions League, however, will be a different kettle of fish when the fixtures take place in February, and there will be no Falcao to face, as the Colombian joined United on a season-long loan.
It may be somewhat amateurish to preempt an automatic qualification as the consequence of this draw as there are certainly no minnows as far as this competition is concerned. Having qualified for this season’s Champions League for the first time in nearly a decade as a consequence of the heavy investments by the Arabian owners over the past few years, Monaco may not possess the experience of regular appearances required to see them as serious favourites but with seasoned a campaigner like Ricardo Carvalho and Joao Moutinho, one of Europe’s most admired midfielders, it will still be a big hurdle to cross for Arsene Wenger and his men, especially if he takes it lightly.
And even if they’re still stuck with Thursday night duds, Spurs fans will be rooting for Berbatov when he returns to London.
Compared to the might of the Spanish trio and Bayern, however, there is no doubt that Monaco was the preferred draw for us. Their group stage record remains a mystery to most observers, topping their group with 11 points, 4 goals scored and 1 against. To be fair, there’s was not an easy group with Zenit, Benfica and Leverkusen, neither was ours. And there is still some frustration that we couldn’t make the top at the end. Overall, there cannot be much anger now, as not many Gooners would have wanted a tie with Juventus, whom Dortmund would now have to face.
As for the ones we wanted to avoid, Bayern will try to stop the Luiz Adriano show against Shakhtar Donestk , while Madrid go to Germany for Schalke. Barcelona will renew their meeting of last year with City, and it will be Leverkusen to face Diego Simeone’s men, even as Porto face Liverpool’s nemesis, Basel. The other tie not involving us would see the PSG-Chelsea clash brought a round closer, after Mourinhos’ side nicked it by the away-goals rule last time.
The last 16 ties will take place on the 25th of February for our home leg and 17th March 2015, for the return leg away at Monaco.
A great start to the week, ehh? And we’re not even in the Capital One Cup!
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