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Assessing Arsenal's possible Champions League opponents

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The good news, Arsenal qualified for the knockout round of the Champions League, the bad news, they probably get to face Bayern Munich again.

As calculated by Eurosport, Arsenal have a 24.05 per cent of drawing the Bundesliga champions in the last-16 of the competition.

The high odds reflect the fact the Gunners can't face Chelsea (clubs from the same country are kept apart) or Borussia Dortmund (same group) while the presence of German clubs in the same half of the draw as Arsenal (Schalke and Bayer Leverkusen) means Bayern have a greater chance of landing any other non-German team, which includes Arsene Wenger's club.

Clearly, Arsenal will want to avoid Bayern at all costs - they've knocked them out in the two previous years.

And Guardiola's team look every bit as good as the 2013 Champions League-winning team - after all, absent of the two momentary lapses in defensive concentration at the Etihad Stadium last month they would have beaten the reigning Premier League champions in their own back yard with 10 men, having been 1-0 behind.

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That performance was hailed by Guardiola as one of his proudest moments of his managerial career, taken as a sort of vindication in his space-the-field style of play.

"Even though we lost, I am very proud of my team," Guardiola told UEFA.com. "We played with 10 men for much of the game, despite that we continued to dominate possession and play an aggressive game."

The Gunners may have dug out results when it mattered, but the costly defeat to Dortmund and incomprehensible home draw to Anderlecht point to an underlying fragility in this Arsenal squad - a fragility underlined by performances like the one at Stoke City last weekend.

So if the worst case scenario, admittedly the most likely, is worrying for Wenger what about the other possible opponents?

Best case

At the opposite end of the spectrum sit AS Monaco. The Ligue 1 side are Arsenal's second most likely opponents, with a 17.98 per cent of drawing Arsenal in the next round.

This would probably be Wenger's dream tie. The narrative would be Wenger returning to a former club, but AS Monaco are a stripped down version of the financial heavyweights that had ambitions of crashing Europe's elite PSG style.

They progressed top of an average group (Leverkusen, Zenit and Benfica were their group-mates), scoring just four goals in six games. That remarkable achievement included a pair of 0-0 draws and a couple narrow home wins. A strong defence kept five clean sheets, conceding just once.

Judging by their Ligue 1 goal difference though, this stiff defence was more of a fluke than indicative of an all-world miserly rearguard.

They didn't face anything approaching a dangerous attack, and by February Arsenal should be able to supplement Alexis Sanchez, Santi Cazorla and the rest with the returning Theo Walcott and Mesut Ozil.

The rest of the possibles?

So that's the best case and the worst case, what about the rest? Not many Arsenal fans would gripe if the Gunners landed Atletico Madrid or Porto, if only because the other alternatives are Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The Catalans would be preferable given a choice, if only because Real Madrid look the pick of the pair so far this season - but Arsenal would be heavy underdogs in either case.

Porto are unbeaten in Portugal but they wouldn't scare the Gunners, while Atletico Madrid are not the same team that reached the final last year. A talented group of players with a savvy manager but lacking a superstar name, they managed to ride the wave to within minutes of toppling city rivals Real Madrid in the showpiece final.

Atletico's is a model Arsenal will try to replicate this season, but they'll need a fortunate draw to facilitate. That starts with avoiding Bayern Munich. Wenger will be hoping it's not third time unlucky.

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Arsenal
Football

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