That bittersweet feeling has arrived once again. Man City and Arsenal (along with Chelsea and Man Utd) have progressed through to the last-16 of the Champions League (that’s the sweet bit).
However, their delight at progressing through to the business end of the competition must be tempered somewhat by the fact that although both teams had the chance of topping the group, they failed to do so. Finishing as runners-up in their respective groups will see the Gunners and the Blues face one of the group winners, meaning an extra-difficult task in the next stage of the competition.
Gunners lack firepower in Naples
Arsenal arrived in Italy only needing a draw to progress through the ‘Group of Death’ as leaders, but were ultimately undone in the second half by Rafa Benitez’s organised side.
Arsene Wenger admitted to being frustrated by the result, and you can see why. Not only does this result mean that Arsenal will face one of Europe’s best sides, but it also betrays the fact that this side is not yet the finished article. For all their flowing, attacking football, Arsenal had one job to do when they arrived at the Stadio San Paolo – avoid defeat. The fact that they failed abjectly in this goal and were overrun in the second half by the side from Naples will be a concern for Wenger and his charges.
Given the ease with which Napoli eventually got the result, Arsenal fans will now be worried about the potential matchups to come in the last-16. Of the group winners, Arsenal could be drawn against Athletico Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich, Barcelona or Real Madrid.
The Gunners have never faced Athletico or PSG in a competitive fixture making it difficult to predict how they’ll fare against them; but given that they both topped their groups with a game to spare it’s a fairly safe bet that they will be formidable opponents.
One team Arsenal will be desperate to avoid is Bayern Munich, having never beaten the German side in a Champions League tie. Equally, Wenger’s side will have their fingers crossed that they aren’t drawn against Barcelona having beaten them only once in seven competitive fixtures.
Ironically, of the teams they could face in the next round, that the Gunners have the best record against Real Madrid; having beaten the Spanish side in their only previous tie. However, this Real side is a different proposition entirely, and no doubt Arsenal will be anxious to avoid meeting the Bale/Ronaldo/Benzema axis this early in the competition.
Arsenal have not progressed into the quarterfinals since 2010, and with a nightmare draw ahead of them, it seems the odds are once again stacked against them progressing any further than the last-16. Having said that, this Arsenal side appear to be far more formidable that previous incarnations. Whatever happens, the Gunners will now have to do it the hard way.
City vanquish Bayern, but not by enough
Having been soundly thrashed by Bayern Munich at the Etihad in their first group stage encounter, Man City managed to defy the odds and beat the champions in their last group game at the Allianz Arena. This was Bayern’s first loss in the Champions League for 10 games, and has to some extent put to bed the notion that City aren’t able to compete away from home.
However, it could have been so much better for City, as one more goal in Germany would have taken City above Bayern in the group rankings; paving the way for an easier draw in the last-16. As it is, City finished level on points with the Germans with an inferior head-to-head rating, meaning that they will face one of Borussia Dortmund, Athletico Madrid, PSG, Barcelona or Real Madrid.
This is only City’s third season in the Champions League, and although it must be desperately disappointing for the Citizens to be so close to topping the group; Pellegrini’s side have at least gone a step further than the two previous campaigns which saw the team fail to come through the group stages.
Given their relative inexperience in the Champions League, it’s perhaps not a surprise that City don’t have an awfully good record against any of the sides they could potentially face. That being said, it makes for fairly damning reading when one states that City have never beaten any of the sides they might face in the last-16.
Man Utd and Chelsea face easier tasks
By virtue of winning their groups, the teams led by David Moyes and Jose Mourinho are likely to experience easier second round games than their English counterparts. Both sides could potentially face AC Milan, Zenit St Petersburg, Galatasaray and Olympiakos; whilst United could also face Schalke, and Chelsea have a chance of facing Bayer Leverkusen.
All will be revealed on Monday
The draw takes place on Monday, but before then we have the delights of Man City v Arsenal, with the two group runners up switching their attentions back to the Premier League. A win for either side would not only give them fresh impetus to compete for the domestic crown, but also suggest that they may have what it takes to be able to win in Europe; no matter who they face.