A shock 2-2 draw for Paris Saint Germain assured Arsenal their first, first-placed finish in a UEFA Champions League group stage since 2011 as the Gunners themselves put FC Basel to the sword with a 4-1 victory.
It’s no secret that Arsenal have struggled in the knockout stages of the Champions League in recent years, making it no further than the Round of 16 every season since 2010.
AC Milan, FC Barcelona, FC Bayern Munich and AS Monaco have all dumped the Gunners out of Europe’s top club competition in those years, however, all but Milan faced the Reds when they were a seeded (second) team.
This time around, they have arguably their best chance of making the quarter-finals, however they may still have to overcome one of Europe’s elite teams, dependent on how kind the draw is.
Benfica (Group B – W2 D2 L2, GF10 GA10)
The Portuguese champions put in a balanced record to escape from the relatively equal Group B, alongside Napoli, Besiktas and Dynamo Kyiv.
Kyiv’s stunning 6-0 win over Turkish side Besiktas on match-day six assured Benfica of a place in the next round, despite losing 2-1 at home to group winners Napoli and throwing away a 3-0 lead to Besiktas in the previous match-day.
The Eagles are probably one of the easier last sixteen ties available to the Gunners, although they did make it to last year’s quarterfinals; they’ve not been the best of sides in this year’s competition.
Arsenal’s only meeting with the Portuguese side was in the 1991-92 European Cup second round, where Benfica beat Arsenal 4-2 on aggregate after extra time.
Bayern Munich (Group D – W4 D0 L2, GF14 GA6)
Carlo Ancelotti’s Bayern Munich could remain Arsenal’s familiar foe. The two sides have met in the last three Champions League seasons, twice in the last 16 and in last season’s group stage.
Bayern have the upper hand over Arsenal, winning both aggregate ties and beating them 5-1 at the Allianz Arena last season, despite Arsenal’s stunning 2-0 win at the Emirates earlier in the group.
Bayern this season have been beatable, both Atletico Madrid and surprise packages FC Rostov have handed them defeats, which has bumped the German heavyweights into second place.
Having secured two draws with PSG to set up their first seed status, Arsenal may feel they have a fair chance at eliminating Ancelotti’s side should they inevitably be drawn together, after all Arsene Wenger’s side did eliminate Ancelotti’s AC Milan in 2008 whilst the Italian giants where reigning European Champions.
Bayer Leverkusen (Group E – W2 D4 L0, GF8 GA4)
The German side may have put three past group winners Monaco to ensure their place in the next round but they’ve been rather poor and low scoring throughout the group phase.
Only one win and four draws before their final game victory, had Arsenal’s London rivals Tottenham managed to find a few better results in their half dozen games, Leverkusen may be in the Europa League last 32 instead.
They can be a dangerous side though; Kevin Volland, Javier Hernandez, Hakan Calhanoglu and Karim Bellarabi are all dangerous in their own way and Arsenal may want to avoid such a dynamic attacking core.
Arsenal have only met Bayer Leverkusen once before, in the 2001/02 UEFA Champions League second group stage, where Arsenal beat them 4-1 at Highbury and were only denied a rare European away win in Leverkusen due to an Ulf Kirsten last minute equaliser.
Real Madrid (Group F – W3 D3 L0, GF16 GA10)
The other elite side in the second seed position are reigning European Champions Real Madrid, falling short of top spot due to a crazy 3-3 draw in Poland with Legia Warsaw.
The last time Arsenal went a group stage unbeaten they faced Madrid in the second round and eliminated the Spanish giants thanks to Thierry Henry’s sole winner in the Santiago Bernabeu.
This time around the Gunners may want to avoid the winners of two of the last three UEFA Champions Leagues, Zinedine Zidane, who featured in both of the 2006 round of 16 ties’ side are 34 games unbeaten over 2016 and six points clear of FC Barcelona at the top of the La Liga table.
Obviously, with the second round fixtures not being played until February, it’s unlikely Madrid will continue their unbeaten run until then but clearly, they’re a resurgent team with Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Alvaro Morata the scariest attacking core Arsenal could face.
FC Porto (Group G – W3 D2 L1, GF9 GA3)
Another Portuguese side Arsenal may face are FC Porto, who booked their place in the next round thanks to a stunning 5-0 win over English Champions Leicester City in the final group game.
Like Leverkusen however, Porto have been relatively low scoring in their group, before the Leicester victory, they’d only scored four goals and had been very low scoring in every game.
Porto aren’t the force they once were, falling behind Benfica and Sporting Lisbon in Liga NOS, although Arsenal will want to look out for 21-year-old striker Andre Silva who has five goals in eight games this season in Europe and seven in 12 in Portugal.
Arsenal last faced FC Porto in the 2009/10 Round of 16, they lost 2-1 in Porto before a Nicklas Bendtner hat-trick overturned the deficit in the second leg as Arsenal won 5-0 on the night at the Emirates and 6-2 on aggregate, that would be the last round of 16 game Arsenal have won in the UEFA Champions League.
Sevilla (Group H – W3 D2 L1, GF7 GA3)
Lastly, winners of the last three UEFA Europa League titles, Sevilla potentially await the Gunners.
Even without Unai Emery and Grzegorz Krychowiak who are now at PSG and 2016 Europa League match-winner Kevin Gameiro who’s at Atletico Madrid, Sevilla are a decent team who held Juventus to a 0-0 draw at the start of the Champions League campaign.
Former Arsenal midfielder Samir Nasri has been a match winner for them this year, scoring the winner against Dynamo Zagreb.
Elsewhere they have Steven N’Zonzi, Luciano Vietto and Wissam Ben Yedder who are all dangerous to face on their day and it would be amiss to dismiss their experience in knockout rounds having just won the last three Europa League’s.
The last time the two met was the 2007/08 Champions League group stage where Arsenal ran out 3-0 winners at the Emirates but lost 3-1 in Sevilla, essentially costing the Gunners top spot in the group.