Arsenal’s failure to achieve at least a draw against Napoli in their final game in this year’s Champions League group stage, means that they finished the group in second place.
As a result, they will go into the last-16 draw as an unseeded team, and will face one of Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid or Paris Saint-Germain in the next round.
Had they topped the group, they would have faced a potentially much easier tie. As a result, it is easy to think that the club's failure to secure the top spot in the group is disastrous. However, whilst it may appear more favourable to have an easier tie in the next round, facing one of Europe’s biggest clubs might actually work in their favour.
It is often claimed that a side will have to play the bigger clubs in order to win the trophy. Whilst this is often the case, it is not guaranteed. It is entirely plausible - although quite unlikely - for a club to go all the way without facing a big team, with the “smaller” clubs doing all the hard work along the way.
However, in this year’s competition, judging by the quality of the seeded teams, it does appear very likely that the quarter-final stage will be made up of teams that have a very realistic chance of winning the trophy, with no easy fixtures.
With this being the case, the quarter-final stages of the competition, and beyond, are likely to be equally as difficult for Arsenal – should they progress – whether they went into the last-16 as a seeded team or not.
Having seen the impact that beating Bayern Munich in last season’s competition had on the team – a result which arguably triggered a great run of form that is still going almost ten months later – it is entirely possible that beating one of Europe’s elite teams in the first knockout round will provide a potentially invaluable boost of confidence that could enable them to go on and win the trophy, as well as having a knock-on effect on their performances in the league too.
Having only narrowly been knocked out on goal difference last season by Bayern Munich – the eventual winners are arguably the best club in the world at the time – as well as having since also beaten last season’s other finalist, Borussia Dortmund, away from home – a result that helped them to qualify from the “group of death” - Arsenal have proved that they can compete with the biggest names, which will surely give them confidence that they can beat whichever club they are drawn against.
However, should they fail to progress any further in the competition then it could be an indication that they wouldn’t have won the trophy this year anyway, even if they had topped the group and been a seeded team. If this is the case, then it may well be better to get knocked out earlier, so as to focus their attention on the league instead.
Ultimately, whatever happens, Arsenal can use the situation to their advantage and should see it very much as a win-win situation.
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