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Friday, 13 December 2013

Arsenal: Would an early Champions League exit aid Arsenal's Premier League ambitions?

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The magnitude of Arsenal's failure to beat or even snatch a draw from Napoli on Wednesday night is larger than the space between Joey Essex's ears. 

One point would have been sufficient for the Gunners to finish above last season's beaten finalists Borussia Dortmund as group winners. Unfortunately Wenger's men went down 2-0 in Naples forcing them to relinquish top spot to the Germans and putting them in a nightmare position ahead of Monday morning's Champions League draw.

Instead of potentially meeting a challenge from either Schalke, Galatasary, AC Milan, Olympiakos, Zenit or Bayer Leverkusen, the Arsenal now face the prospect of coming up against one of the real powerhouses of European football. Either holders Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid or PSG will be paired with the Gunners and there's no easy tie in sight.

Of course if you want to win the competition you are going to have to face the big boys at some stage, but Arsenal could have done with winning their group to all but guarantee their spot in the last eight. Now they are hoping Lady Luck shines on them on Monday morning. Out of the five teams they could potentially face I believe the one team that Wenger is hoping to be paired with is PSG. Sure the French champions may have money coming out of their ears and some top class talent like Ibrahimovich at their disposal, but that's how tough this draw will be.

Although they lost at home to Manchester City on Tuesday - and Arsenal beat them at the Allianz last season - no-one will want to play Pep Guardiola's Bayern Munich. The German giants are sweeping all aside and Guardiola looks like building on Jupp Heynckes' success.

Barcelona have Messi, Neymar and co while Real Madrid have Ronaldo and Bale. Then there's Atletico who are currently joint top in La Liga and won five of their six Champions League group games. 

Although it looks daunting for Arsenal, they will be confident against whoever they face. Everyone with an opinion appears to be writing off Arsenal's Champions League hopes before the draw has even been made, but they've been doing that before a ball was even kicked this season - yet who is currently five points clear in the Premier League? 

Who knows. Wenger may splash the cash again next month to bring another top class star to the Emirates? Messi, Neymar, Ronaldo or Ibrahimovich may be out injured for the last 16? Arsenal could even produce the type of performance that saw them win at the Bernabeu in 2006. Anything could happen. That's why we love this crazy, head-turning game.

It will be tough for Arsenal whoever they draw on Monday, of course it will, and those Gooners with dreams of lifting the coveted title for the first time will surely be hoping they get PSG. But a meeting with either Bayern, Barca or Madrid, would put the Gunners in their favourite position, that of underdog. With the pressure off, Arsenal could concentrate on the game at hand and possibly cause an upset. 

However, although Wenger would never publicly admit it, maybe an early exit from Europe would be the best thing to happen to them to aid their Premier League hopes, especially if Chelsea and Manchester City remained in the competition. Arsenal would have extra time to rest and recuperate between Premier League games and Wenger would have more time to plan for the opponents ahead. 

No Arsenal fan would like to hear Wenger say that though. They want to see their heroes win every game in every competition they take part in, of course they do, but an early exit in Europe could ultimately put them in the driving seat of delivery of the Premier League title come May.

Whatever happens in Monday's draw, the second half of Arsenal's season is going to be unmissable.

Calling all Arsenal fans: Out of the five teams Arsenal could face in the Champions League draw on Monday, who would you like to face most and why? Would you be prepared to sacrifice progression in the Champions League in order to guarantee Premier League success? 

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Antony Melvin



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