Arsenal performed a Champions League great escape against Olympiakos last week, but it was very much a case of leaping out of the frying pan and into the fire as they were drawn against Barcelona on Monday morning.
Yes, Olivier Giroud's hat-trick in Greece extended Arsenal's run in Europe's elite competition until after Christmas, but it is almost certain to come to an end in the second round, just as it has done in the last five seasons.
Fans have already taken to Twitter in their droves, bemoaning their luck at drawing arguably the hardest team out of the five they could have. Indeed, even Real Madrid would have been preferable for the Gunners.
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But while Arsenal can already start preparing for an emphatic exit at the hands of Leo Messi and Co., they can take solace in the fact that the draw was exactly what they needed in their bid to win the Premier League – the only major trophy they have a chance of winning this season.
Although defeats to Dinamo Zagreb and Olympiakos were met with shock and disgust in equal measure, it was the 5-1 drubbing at the hands of Bayern Munich that was most telling. Their previous defeats were blips, but the masterclass from Pep Guardiola's men proved just how far the Gunners are behind Europe's biggest clubs.
They are certainly better than several clubs that remain in the competition, including group winners Wolfsburg and Zenit St Petersburg, but Arsene Wenger's men have been making up the numbers in the competition for years and are destined to do so again.
- First Leg: Arsenal v Barcelona - February 23rd
- Second Leg: Barcelona v Arsenal - March 16th
Having qualified, they escaped the scheduling nightmare that is the Europa League and, having drawn Barcelona, will now have only two more European games to contend with. After taking an inevitable beating from the Spanish giants, they can dust themselves down and focus solely on their Premier League title assault.
The perfect draw
What makes the draw even better is the fact that Manchester City have drawn Dynamo Kiev. Although the Citizens have been unpredictable in Europe in recent years, they are strong favourites to qualify for the quarter-finals for the first time in their history.
Most of their squad has already tasted domestic success and the players will be determined to cut out a lengthy European campaign, regardless of how much it affects their chances of a third Premier League crown.
Similarly, Manchester United will have to contend with the Europa League knockout rounds and, if they live up to their potential, will reach at least the semi-finals. Their first opponents, FC Midtjylland, will prove easy fodder but the two games will be unwelcome. As Liverpool and Tottenham fans will tell you, Thursday night games will do their Premier League chances no favours.
Some will accuse this opinion as defeatist, but it is anything but. This Arsenal squad is the best it has been for years and will certainly cause Barcelona some problems, but even if they knock them out, equally challenging tasks against Real Madrid and/or Bayern Munich will lie ahead.
Arsenal will inevitably win the Champions League one year, but it will not be 2016. Their priority is the Premier League, as it should be. A glorious exit at the hands of Barcelona will give them the very best chance of achieving it.
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