Can Arsenal overcome Messi & Co this time?
Glenn Moore assesses Wenger's chances of Champions League revenge and what the draw means for the other English clubs
Saturday 18 December 2010
Arsenal vs Barcelona
First the good news for Arsenal fans. The odds on Arsène Wenger's team lifting the league title for the first time since "the Invincibles" shortened after the draw in Nyon, presumably on the grounds that they will concentrate on the domestic campaign once Barcelona have repeated last season's despatch of the Gunners.
Then Barcelona tore Arsenal apart in the Nou Camp after a thrilling draw at the Emirates. If there is any shaft of light for Arsenal it is the hope that they will not be as depleted this time. The team beaten 4-1 in the quarter-final second leg last year had Mikaël Silvestre at centre-half and was without Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie and Andrei Arshavin. However, Barcelona look even better this season, and have added David Villa to their attack.
Wenger had indicated he wanted to play Barcelona, and whether he meant that or not, his response to the draw was upbeat. "Is it difficult [to knock them out]? Yes. Is it possible? Yes. Barcelona are favourites, but they did not want us either because they know they will get a game. I think we are better than last year and we have a good opportunity to show that."
Pep Guardiola, Barcelona's coach, said he also believed Arsenal were stronger, adding "[Samir] Nasri has established himself, they have signed [Marouane] Chamakh, and Fabregas will be on the pitch this time."
Chelsea v Copenhagen
The Stamford Bridge DJ must be tempted to play Danny Kaye singing "Wonderful, wonderful, Copenhagen" on Sunday such will have been the joy at Chelsea. However, the first Danish team to make the last 16 held Barcelona in the group stage and have troubled both Manchester clubs in recent years.
Copenhagen have former Chelsea winger Jesper Gronkjaer in their ranks and the coach, Stale Solbakken, was briefly at Wimbledon in the 1990s. Solbakken was pronounced "clinically dead" after a heart attack in 2001 but survived, though it ended his playing career. He says it has given him a sense of perspective, but that did not prevent him squaring up to Pep Guardiola this season. He will become coach of his native Norway when their interest in Euro 2012 ends.
"Copenhagen had good performances against Barcelona and are a good team, but they don't have lots of experience in the Champions League and it is a good draw," admitted Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti. He added: "Their winter break means they can prepare well physically so we have to pay attention."
Ancelotti conceded Europe was the focus at Chelsea. "When you win the Premier League and the FA Cup the next step is to try to win the Champions League," he said.
The pairing is given spice by speculation linking Arkady Abramovich, son of Chelsea owner Roman, with purchasing Copenhagen. Fortunately for Uefa no deal has been struck as yet.
Milan v Tottenham Hotspur
Tottenham gained scant reward for their heroics against the holders when they were paired with Internazionale's neighbours. After several years in the doldrums, Milan look to be on the move under bright young coach Massimiliano Allegri and currently lead Serie A by six points. Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be the main danger but Ronaldinho and Alexandre Pato also provide moments of contrasting threat.
Given the way Tottenham have approached their European campaign, the tie could be more exciting than Arsenal's. "It's a tough draw, but will be a great game and fantastic occasion," said Spurs manager Harry Redknapp.
Allegri was relatively dismissive of the Champions League debutants. "Tottenham is probably a very good team, but among the possible rivals we could have faced, they are in theory one of the less difficult sides," he said.
Marseilles vs Manchester United
Gabriel Heinze will be among the opposition but their former defender will be less of a threat to Manchester United's progress than the tactical acumen of Didier Deschamps, and the effect of playing in the Stade Vélodrome.
Both Sir Alex Ferguson and Rio Ferdinand noted the latter. "Marseilles are a handful at their own ground," said the manager. "Their fantastic atmosphere and incredible support guarantees that."
Ferdinand said: "It will be a hard place to go. You are talking about passionate fans in a big stadium."
Man-for-man United are stronger but Marseilles beat Chelsea this month and in Mathieu Valbuena, Loïc Rémy, Brandao and Lucho Gonzalez have dangerous offensive players. Charlton fans may be surprised at the key role of Souleymane Diawara, a champion with Bordeaux and Marseilles since his relegation with the Addicks.
Rest of the draw: Last year's finalists go head to head
In May, Internazionale beat Bayern Munich in some comfort to lift the Champions League trophy but Louis van Gaal's team will fancy their chances of revenge against the holders, who are struggling to match the heights of last season. Should they do so, the pressure on Rafael Benitez (pictured right) will rise even if his Inter team, as expected, win the Fifa Club World Cup final against unexpected finalists TP Mazembe, of DR Congo, in Qatar today.
"We still have scores to settle with Inter," said Van Gaal. "Almost all the players who played in May are still with Bayern."
Benitez's predecessor, Jose Mourinho, faces Lyons; a relatively straight-forward task in theory, except Lyons knocked out Real Madrid at this stage last season.
Another former Chelsea manager, Claudio Ranieri, takes Roma to Ukraine to play Shakhtar Donetsk. The remaining tie pits Valencia against Schalke.
The Last Sixteen
*Milan v Tottenham Hotspur (First leg: 15 February, second leg: 9 March)
* Valencia v Schalke 04 (15 February & 9 March)
* Roma v Shakhtar Donetsk (16 February & 8 March)
* Arsenal v Barcelona (16 February & 8 March)
* FC Copenhagen v Chelsea (22 February & 16 March)
* Lyons v Real Madrid (22 February & 16 March)
* Marseilles v Manchester United (23 February & 15 March)
* Internazionale v Bayern Munich (23 February & 15 March)
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