Arsenal’s Champions League all but guarantees that we’ll advance to the knockout phase!


Just…let it roll around in your mouth. Savour it. Run your tongue across your teeth. The Champions League. Inhale deeply through the nostrils. Hold it…hold it…hoooolllllld it. We’re back. After seven long years, we’re back where we want to be, and, I’m not embarrassed to say that it feels very, very good. We’ve wandered the hinterlands lo these many years, but, at long last, we’re back. What’s more, we’ve been given a draw decent enough to inspire dreams of advancing past the group stage. Yes, everything’s comin’ up Milhouse!

We’ve gotten a draw about as favourable as we could have hoped for. Sevilla, PSV Eindhoven, and RC Lens are each among the weakest of clubs in their respective pots. For ourselves, we were the lowest ranked club in pot two, a byproduct of our getting knocked out in last year’s knockout phase and failing to qualify for anything the season before. It would have been sweet and fitting indeed to have been drawn with Bayern or Barca, but those are two bullets we dodged…for now.

Sevilla qualified by dint of having won last season’s Europa League over Roma after having defeated PSV Eindhoven, Fenerbahçe, Man U, and Juventus. Reading that makes them sound quite impressive if not intimidating. However, Moroccan keeper Yassine Bounou has joined Saudi side Al-Hilal and Argentinian fullback Gonzalo Montiel has moved to Nottingham Forest (after we faced each other…). They’ve not re-invested all that aggressively and are currently winless and bottom of La Liga, but they’re still a side to be wary of. If nothing else, they did push Man City to the brink in the UEFA Super Cup before finally conceding in a shootout.

The larger threat to winning the group may come from PSV Eindhoven, who thrashed Rangers 5-1 and 7-3 on aggregate to qualify for the group stage. Having qualified for the Champions League by dint of finishing second in the Eredevisie, the Dutch side have avoided any major transfers out but have added a few tidy signings in Noa Leng, Jerdy Schouten, and Ricardo Pepi. While none of those names will cause any palpltations, they come in as the club’s first, second and fourth most-expensive transfers. That’s ambitious.

Now we’re into the dregs. RC Lens are among the lowest-ranked squads in this compeition, if not the lowest, despite having finished just a point below PSG in Lique 1 last season. They’ve sold Seko Fofana and Loïs Openda, depriving them of the former’s marshalling of the midfield and the latter’s scoring of goals (21 in 38 league matches). While the French side may be chuffed just to be included in the Champions League, we’d be remiss to underestimate them.

Despite our own indifferent start in the Prem, this is a group we really should win. Winning the group, of course, would pit us against a club that finishes second in its group. With our luck, Bayern or Barca will stumble to second in their groups only to thrash us in the knockout phase. That wouldn’t be too far from par from the course, either by history or by current trends. For as surprising as we were last year, we still have a long, long way to go to bridge the gap that separates us from Europe’s elite.

Given where we stand, advancing to the knockout phase should be a foregone conclusion. GIven the clubs we’re drawn against, we might even expect to see some rotation. Smith Rowe and Nketiah, among others, could be given chances to sign even if against “inferior” opposition.

It’s all a bit heady in the end, to have finally qualified for Champions League play after so, so long. To have been offered a chance at advancing to the knockout phase at the first asking is almost too much. GIven our recent history, we might have expected to end up in Newcastle’s place, pitted against PSG, Dortmund, and AC Milan.

On paper, we really should advance without too much trouble. However, only a small handful of our lads have any real experience in this contintental cauldron. Along the way, we’ll have to be wary of how these midweek fixtures may affect our Prem aspirations. For as Europa League-ish as this draw may feel, we have to know that we can’t treat these fixtures lightly.

Winning the group matters. Let’s hope the lads have what it takes to do that.

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8 thoughts on “Arsenal’s Champions League all but guarantees that we’ll advance to the knockout phase!

  1. jw1

    Not to mention– reasonably short flights to play PSV and Lens, a bit further for Seville (but yay, no Turkish or Slavic outposts!). With all home games after midweek CL group matches– albeit Sp*rs early on and City halfway through.

    All-in-all a pretty positive draw.

    1. jw1

      Matchdays, if anyone wishes…

      Matchday 1: Sept. 19/20, 2023.
      Matchday 2: Oct. 3/4, 2023.
      Matchday 3: Oct. 24/25, 2023.
      Matchday 4: Nov. 7/8, 2023.
      Matchday 5: Nov. 28/29, 2023.
      Matchday 6: Dec. 12/13, 2023.

      1. Jon Shay Post author

        Agreed – nothing against the likes of Norway, but I prefer we not journey so far north in December. I much prefer these balmier locations.

  2. A Simple Truth

    in light of the possibilities, this is a CL wet dream, but I’m certainly not counting any chickens considering our present form and MA’s rather poor record in European fixtures when it matters most…as JW has already remarked, the travel schedule is certainly an added bonus

    1. reg

      Couldn’t say it better. Definitely don’t count chickens before they’ve hatched. Caused many a downfall and incentivised the opposition as well.

  3. palladio43

    As of now, I am more troubled, given that CL activity requires a deeper squad, at the lack of activity up to and including deadline day. While everyone seemed ecstatic that Arsenal dove in headfirst and did not adopt the Wenger model of waiting until the last day to, possibly, pick up the dregs for very little money, we now find that, when it comes to selling, nobody seems to want our dregs.
    I will discount Pepe, who seems to believe he either deserves to remain or go to the side of his choice (the market does not work that way but his agent never told him that), and may just be cut loose with no squad or income. However, we are painfully dragging out the process of parting with Holding, and others, as potential buyers may either not want our used merchandise or will only take them at rock- bottom prices.
    If I am to believe that we either needed to raise cash with these sales before buying a: a) striker to back Jesus (if not supplant him), b) a defender to replace Timber, and 3) maybe another midfielder or another back, then we have failed in our strategy and we now watch a multiplicity of transactions that do not involve Arsenal. Some are mediocre moves, but it seems hard to believe a replacement could not be found for a player we know is out for the year (or more) nor players to fill those other needs and vacancies.
    At some point, like it or not, we will suffer more injuries, especially since some of our squad are brittle (Jesus, Elneny, etc.) and then what happens? If it happens earlier than might be expected, these dream of advancing very far in the CL or the PL will fade and become only a distant memory. What then will our brain-trust tell us?

    1. A Simple Truth

      agreed…so far we bought the world’s most expensive passenger, a backer who didn’t survive the opening week, albeit I think there’s plenty of up-side there if he returns to 100%, a top quality DM, who appears to have his sights set on being a more offensive cog in our mishapen wheel, and another starting Keeper, who will undoubtedly muddy the already problematic selection waters at some juncture…so besides the fact that we’re thankfully open for business, it’s hardly gone according to planned…ironically, the only players who might have provided him with something a little different, positionally-wise, is Balo and Tierney, who’ve been shipped elsewhere, and the other, ESR, can’t even get on the GD pitch

      1. Palladio43

        Well…with the window closed, it appears, despite the need for a replacement for Timber, a striker (either a backup or better) for Jesus, and overall back ups at back and middle, we stood pat other than the departure of a few and the inevitable cutting-loose of Pepe (who may live to regret a chance to cruise the Bosphurus).
        If MU is capable of making last minute moves to deal with injuries and we have known Timber has been unavailable for weeks, why not a move, even if a back-up to one of our present squad.
        What am I missing here or is this like the AW days of “reaching the CL is enough” or “top 4 or 5 in the PL is enough”? If the ambition was there, regardless of the choices, when Havertz, etc al were brought in, why the drawing back and reticence at the end? Please do not tell me it was to be financially correct?


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