Arsenal and Chelsea in nightmare Champions League draw
Friday 16 December 2011
Chelsea and Arsenal must both overcome tough Italian tests in the last 16 of the Champions League after today's draw in Nyon.
The London clubs are the last remaining Barclays Premier League sides in the competition following the exits of Manchester United and Manchester City in the group phase.
But managers Andre Villas-Boas and Arsene Wenger must overcome Serie A opponents if they are to reach the quarter-final stage, with Chelsea drawing Napoli and the Gunners landing AC Milan.
As group winners both English sides will play away in the first leg, which takes place on 14/15 or 21/22 February, before the return fixtures on 6/7 and 13/15 March.
Chelsea's opponents Napoli were responsible for City's exit after taking four points off Roberto Mancini's side in Group A and their forward pairing of Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi is one of the most feared in Europe.
The Gunners, meanwhile, face an AC Milan side who would have been expected to be in the group winners' half of the draw had they not been paired with the might of Barcelona in Group H.
Arsenal club secretary David Miles was upbeat about the testing draw, highlighting his side's impressive record against Italian opposition and declaring it the "pick of the round".
"There were probably other teams we would have preferred but the last time we played them in the knockout stage, in '07-08, we actually went through and won 2-0 in the San Siro," he said.
"We also knocked out, in fairly recent history, Roma and Inter Milan. It's going to be tough. Everyone has earned the right to get to this stage but nevertheless, we're confident and it's going to be two great games.
"I would guess it's probably the pick of the round."
Chelsea secretary David Barnard admitted Napoli represented a tough draw for the Blues.
"It will be difficult having seen Napoli when they were in the same group as Man City," he said.
"Unfortunately City are no longer with us which reflects the quality of Napoli."
While Chelsea have never before met Napoli in European competition, they are not an unknown threat for boss Villas-Boas after he worked under Jose Mourinho at Inter Milan.
"It's a new experience for us with this club," Barnard added.
"Andre has experience in Italy though from when he was with Inter so he know the ins and outs of Napoli."
Arsenal have been knocked out by Barca in the last two seasons and, although Milan are one of the strongest teams left in the competition, Miles was pleased just to have a break from the reigning champions.
"Having been on the rough end of Barcelona for two years running, it's nice to know it couldn't happen a third time. It's a good draw for us."
Milan director Umberto Gandini is also looking forward to the match, but senses a potential weakness in the Gunners this season compared to their previous meeting.
"We've got to break tradition, last time (we played Arsenal) we were knocked out, losing 2-0 the San Siro. But it's an exciting fixture and we are determined to go through," he said.
"I think if you had the game today maybe Arsenal is not in the greatest condition and we are in a better status. But in two months things may change. They are rebuilding in a certain way but are still very, very dangerous.
"It's very important we play well in Milan and very important we come back to London in good shape."
"We are AC Milan. They are Arsenal. It is a great match."
Elsewhere in the draw, Serie A giants Real Madrid and Barca will play CSKA Moscow and Bayer Leverkusen respectively, Bayern Munich were drawn against Basle, Zenit St Petersburg meet Benfica and Lyon play Apoel Nicosia.
AC Milan insisted they are not seeking retribution after again drawing English opposition.
The Rossoneri, who were knocked out by Tottenham in the last 16 of the competition earlier this year, were paired with Arsenal. The Gunners also eliminated Milan in the knockout round in 2008.
"It's not a question of revenge," Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri told Gazzetta dello Sport. "We know Arsenal, it's a team that plays well.
"We will have to arrive in February in the best possible condition and without injuries."
Allegri believes rivals Inter Milan had luck on their side in today's draw in Nyon.
Inter were paired with French side Marseille while Napoli face a daunting task against Chelsea.
"From a quality standpoint, Inter has been paired with the easiest opponent," Allegri said. "Chelsea, from a European level, are strong.
"It will be difficult for Napoli just as it will be difficult for us.
"I don't believe in those that speak of a crisis in English football despite the fact that Manchester United and Manchester City were eliminated early on.
"City had a difficult group and don't have much experience in Europe.
"United's elimination was, however, a huge surprise."
Allegri, whose team finished second in Group H behind holders Barcelona, is aware his players will have to step up their game if they are to go far in the competition.
The Rossoneri won just two of their pool games and have not won on the road in Europe this season - they were held to a 1-1 draw at Bate Borisov and ended the group phase with a 2-2 draw at Viktoria Plzen.
"We will only concentrate in the Champions League in February," Allegri said. "If we make the same mistakes as we did in Prague and in Minsk, it will be difficult to progress."
The Italian champions are hoping to win Europe's elite club competition for the first time since the 2006-07 campaign.
UEFA Champions League Round of 16 Draw is as follows:
Lyon v APOEL
Napoli v Chelsea
AC Milan v Arsenal
Basel v Bayern Munich
Bayer Leverkusen v Barcelona
CSKA Moscow v Real Madrid
Zenit St Petersburg v Benfica
Marseille v Inter Milan
First leg matches will be played on 14/15 and 21/22 February. Second leg matches will be played on 6/7 and 13/14 March.
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