Following the Champions League last 16 draw on the 12th December, it is now revealed which teams will play each other in the first of the knock out rounds, and the path to the final looks a little clearer. In what could potentially be Arsene Wenger’s last season as manager of the Gunners, he will undoubtedly be looking to win the only trophy that has eluded him for his entire management career. With a final at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on the cards, there is still a long way to go, but for now, Arsenal remain focused on progressing past the round of 16.
The Group Stage
Throughout the UEFA Champions League, there is a perceived importance placed upon finishing in the top spot of your group as it means you will avoid playing the other top finishing teams in the knockout rounds. Prior to this season, Arsenal hadn’t managed to do that since the 2011-12 season, which for those keeping score, was when Robin Van Persie still played for the Gunners and Sir Alex Ferguson was still Manchester United manager. In recent seasons, Arsenal have finished second before crashing out in the last 16 to the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
This season, Arsenal avoided defeat all the way through the group stage with four wins and two draws, enabling them to finish at the top of the group for the first time in four seasons. It could all be to avail though, as Arsenal have drawn Bayern Munich once again, who finished second in their group on this occasion
It is a period of transition for the Bayern, as Pep Guardiola left the club at the end of June where he won three Bundesliga’s, two Cups, one UEFA Super Cup and one FIFA Club World Cup, the only title that eluded him while Munich manager was the Champions League itself. Carlo Ancelotti took over the club in July, the well travelled manager has previously won the Champions League with Milan and Real Madrid. However, this season they lost away to Athletico Madrid and Rostov in the group stage, meaning they finished second behind Athletico.
One of the rewards of topping your group is that you get to play the away leg first, which means Arsenal will be heading to the Allianz Arena in Munich on the 15th February. If you’re one of the many thousands expected to pack out the stadium that night, remember to apply for your European Health Insurance Card at https://www.ehic.co.uk/. The card will entitle you to free or reduced cost healthcare, should you require it while you stay in Munich. The return fixture at the Emirates will then take place on the 7th March.
Class vs. Form
Alexis Sánchez has been the top goalscorer this season, with 11 goals in 15 appearances, followed by Theo Walcott with 7 in 14. Rounded out with Mesut Özil, Arsenal have a handful of top quality players who are currently enjoying a very good patch of form. Wenger will be hoping he guide these players through the comngested Christmas fixture list without any injury as he will come to rely on them in the New Year if he as any intention of progressing past the final 16.