On Friday at 11am, Arsenal will know their fate in the Champions League. Potential opponents are Athletic Bilbao, Lille, Standard Liege, FC Copenhagen and Besiktas. But who exactly are they and what threat to they pose?
Finished a distant 4th in Spain, 20 points behind the winners Atletico Madrid, Athletic Bilbao would be a tricky tie for Arsenal. Famous for a transfer policy which involved only signing Basque players, they have plenty of exciting talent, with their star man being Iker Muniain. Despite having lost midfield general Ander Herrera to Manchester United, Bilbao will be a trick proposition.
Just a short low cost (until they hyke the prices up) flight, Bilbao is a nice easy journey. And who wouldn’t fancy a few days in Northern Spain?
Between me writing this and you reading this, I could have got a Eurostar to Lille and be sitting in the Northern French city drinking coffee. That is what will appeal to Arsenal fans. Little time off work. Cheap train, there and back in a day. Brilliant!
Lille finished 3rd in France behind the money bags of Europe PSG and Monaco. Since winning the title in 2011, they have regularly sold of there stars, including Gervinho, Eden Hazard, Florian Thauvin, Lucas Digna, Dimitri Payet and most recently Divock Origi to Liverpool – although they have loaned him back. Their main threat is Solomon Kalou. A good side, but should not cause Arsenal any problems.
The Belgium city of Liege is around a 260 mile drive (and ferry) from London, making it easily commutable by car or mini bus. Getting a train via Brussels is also a realistic option.
Standard Liege would have been a threat 10 years ago, with Kanu and Stam in their side. Unfortunatly for them, they are Brazilian defender Kanu (Full name António Eduardo Pereira dos Santos) and former Wigan centre back Ronnie Stam. When your captain could barely get a game for Wolves, your star midfielder failed to make the grade at Spurs, and your big summer signing so far is 20 year old Tony Watt (who?) from Celtic, you can perhaps understand the challenge, or lack of, that Arsenal will face.
In a similar vein to Standard Liege, FC Copenhagen have a numeorus players who once ‘starred’ in England. Andreas Cornelius signed for Cardiff last summer for £8million, played 8 games, did not score, and was sold back to FC Copenhagen for less than £2million in January. Steve De Ridder includes Southampton and Bolton as his previous clubs. Once managed by Roy Hodgson, they are a side who Arsenal really should beat.
Copenhagen is a wonderful city, but do you really want to be forking out for a flight to Denmark, considering the other destination on offer? Probably not.
The furthest journey of them all. Flights will cost over £500, so unless you already have a holiday booked in Turkey, it is a big chunk of cash to fork out.
With former Croatia manager Slavan Bilic in charge, Besiktas will not be an easy game. It is always tough playing away to a Turkish side, with their passionate and hostile fans creating an intimidation atmosphere. As usual with many Turkish sides, the majority of their squad is made up of Turkish players. Former Arsenal trainee Oguzhan Ozyakup runs the midfield, whilst former Fulham wonderkid Karim Frei (now Karim Koyunlu) provies a threat on the wing.
Their undoubted star money is Demba Ba, recently signed from Chelsea. With him upfront mixed with the Turkish crowd, they are one to avoid.
So who do I want?
1) Standard Liege
3) FC Copenhagen
4) Athletic Bilbao