Arsenal set to learn CL fate

The Gunners have learnt their five potential opponents for this

month’s two-leg tie, which will determine whether they reach the

lucrative group stage for the 14th year in a row. Manager Arsene

Wenger has cited the fact Arsenal have repeatedly qualified for the

Champions League in order to defend his record in the wake of their

six-year trophy drought. So failure in their matches on the weeks

commencing August 15 and 22 would doubtless pile the pressure on

the Frenchman. As well as Italian side Udinese and Russians Rubin,

Wenger’s men could face FC Twente, FC Zurich or Odense, who

finished runners-up in Holland, Switzerland and Denmark,

respectively. One of that trio would be a far more attractive

prospect than Udinese and Rubin, due to the relative strength of

Serie A and the Russian Premier League, as well as the amount of

travel involved in a trip to Kazan. Arsenal have never played

either side but Rubin earnt a reputation for causing upsets in

their two previous Champions League campaigns, winning 2-1 at

Barcelona two years ago, as well as holding the eventual champions

1-1 at home last season. Their 4-1 aggregate win over Dynamo Kiev

in the third qualifying round, which they sealed last night, showed

they cannot be underestimated this year either. The Gunners have

also never played Zurich but they do have history with both Twente

and Odense. They thrashed the former – then managed by Steve

McClaren – 6-0 in the play-off round three years ago, while the

latter were their opening opponents when they won the 1994 European

Cup Winners’ Cup. Odense, who have never reached the Champions

League group stage, won a thrilling third qualifying round second

leg 4-3 at Panathinaikos last night to advance 5-4 on aggregate.

Arsenal are seeded in the play-off round’s ‘league route’, as are

four-time European champions Bayern Munich, two-time winners

Benfica, Villarreal and Lyon. The ‘champions route’ boasts Rangers’

conquerors Malmo, FC Viktoria Plzen and Wisla Krakow, all of whom

are looking to reach the group stage for the first time. They are

unseeded, along with Genk and Sturm Graz and will play one of the

five seeded sides – FC Copenhagen, BATE Borisov, Maccabi Haifa,

Dinamo Zagreb and APOEL. Friday’s draw takes place at 1100BST, with

the Europa League draw following at 1230BST. The latter will see

Tottenham, Birmingham and Celtic all enter the competition, with

Rangers joining them after losing their Champions League third

qualifying round tie. All four sides will be seeded.