Arsenal will face Slavia Prague in the Quarterfinals of the Europa League. This is a good draw for the Gunners. There were five “stronger” teams left in the competition and three weaker ones, and we’ve avoided them. According to 538’s ELO system, Manchester United, Arsenal, Roma, Ajax, and Villarreal all rank in the top 25 in the world; the highest among Slavia Prague, Granada, and Dinamo Zagreb is Prague at 65.
Really the only way the draw could have turned out better for the Gunners is if two more of the stronger teams had drawn each other instead of just Roma vs. Ajax. The Gunners will face the winner of Dinamo Zagreb vs. Villareal in the Semifinal. The winner of Manchester United vs. Granada will play the winner of Roma and Ajax.
Prague came second in the group to Bayer Leverkusen, winning all three of their home matches and beating Nice on the road. Leverkusen soundly beat them 4-0 at home. They knocked out Leicester City in the Round of 32, winning 2-0 at the King Power. Normally, that would be a concerning result for me, but given that I’m pretty sure my father’s rec league team would beat Leicester right now, I’m not quite as worried. Last round, they knocked out Rangers, again winning the away leg.
That match, yesterday’s match, was overshadowed by accusations of racism direct at a Rangers’ player from Slavia Prague that led to a post-match brawl. That’s something to keep an eye on; there may be additional punishments coming. The club has had three separate incidents with their fans racially abusing opposing players in recent years, as well.
Arsenal have played Slavia Prague twice in club history, in the group stage of the 2007-08 Champions League. Arsenal beat them 7-0 at the Emirates and drew the return leg 0-0.
They’ll be without their preferred keeper, Ondrej Kolar, who suffered some NASTY facial gashes and perhaps a fracture as well, when a leaping, face height, studs-up, straight red challenge from Rangers forward Kemar Roofe caught him in the face. The pictures, both of the challenge and of the injuries, are gruesome.
The tie is Arsenal’s to lose, I think. But that doesn’t mean they’ll walk into the Semifinal. Slavia Prague can be tricky, and anything can happen in a two-legged tie. You have a bad game (like Mikel Arteta accused his side of having against Olympiacos at the Emirates), and boom, you’re well-behind the eight-ball fighting to stay in the competition. But yeah, this is a good draw for the Gunners, and they’re definitely favored to move on.