Last week Arsenal beat Olympiakos by the required two-or-more goals and secured second place in Group F of the Champions League, qualifying for the first knockout round (to be drawn by UEFA officials at 6 a.m. ET tomorrow). That's good! Finishing second means they'll have to face a group winner in the round of 16. That's bad! But it comes with free frozen yogurt.
Anyway, no matter what we have to end up with one of these teams, so which one would be best? Or maybe least bad? Here's what we're working with:
- Real Madrid
- Atlético Madrid
- Zenit St. Petersburg
Not a lot of great options there! But a few could be fun. Let's pick one to play.
Real Madrid and Barcelona
Nope. Let's avoid this for the moment. If we're going to progress we'll probably have to play one eventually but frankly I'd like to get out of the round of 16 this year, so save them for later..
Probably not as good as the other two big Spanish clubs, but they're still frightening. They're not far behind the others in the table, so I say "nay," sir.
Zenit St. Petersburg
Now we're getting somewhere. Zenit has a few familiar faces – manager Andre Villas-Boas, Hulk, Axel Witsel, Javi Garcia, Ezequiel Garay. But they're also sixth in the Russian Premier League presently, and we all know the Russian league isn't exactly the best in the world. And, even better, in Russia there's an extended winter break which means that the first leg of the tie could be Zenit's first game in months. Even if the schedule doesn't shake out exactly like that, it'll still be beneficial to get an opponent that's out of routine.
On the other hand, Russia is far away, and that's annoying. See this handy visual aid:
One leg of the tie could come just before Arsenal goes to Old Trafford to face Manchester United, and the other could be immediately after a trip to White Hart Lane to play Tottenham Hotspur. The second leg could also be just after the FA Cup quarterfinal, if we get that far. It'd be nice to not have to travel all over the continent around important games.
We've also had some issues this year (and in the recent past) with beating the teams We're Supposed To Beat in Europe. There's a chance Zenit could be taken lightly, and it'd be nice to not have that weirdness hanging over our heads.
This might be the sweet spot here. They're a good team – 4th in the Bundesliga at the moment, and "only" 17 points behind Bayern Munich – and they'd force Arsenal to be sharp in order to win. But they also won a fairly weak group over PSV, Manchester United, and CSKA Moscow (granted that sounds decent, but have you watched United lately?) and only by two points. They have some good players, like past Arsenal target Julian Draxler, former Chelsea dude Andre Schürrle, Max Kruse. But they also have Nicklas Bendtner, who is not good. And then there's this. We've already played Wolfsburg this season, and they got bantered off by Jeff "JEFF" Reine-Adelaide. Yeah, that was preseason, but it's still not a great sign for them.
So, who do you want to face next?