ARSENAL’S hopes of reaching the Champions League knockout rounds for a 14th consecutive season have been dealt a savage blow after they were handed an onerous draw in the group stage yesterday.
The Gunners received the most daunting group of the four Premier League clubs, with last term’s beaten finalists Borussia Dortmund, Rafael Benitez’s Napoli and Marseille barring their progress to the last 16.
They face a particularly tricky period at the start of November, when the trip to Dortmund is sandwiched in between the visit of Liverpool and a visit to Manchester United, both in the league.
Chelsea, by contrast, have perhaps the easiest opponents of the English contingent, with Schalke, fourth in Germany last season, Basle of Switzerland and Romanian champions Steaua Bucharest. The 2012 winners begin their campaign on 18 September at home to Basel, who eliminated Tottenham on penalties in the Europa League quarter-finals in April.
United, who like the two London clubs were also among the top seeds, start off against Bayer Leverkusen and must also overcome Ukraine’s Shakhtar Donetsk and Spanish debutants Real Sociedad.
Manchester City have been drawn with holders Bayern Munich, CSKA Moscow and Czech side Viktoria Plzen, against whom they start their campaign.
Celtic, who only secured their place with a dramatic 3-2 aggregate triumph over Shakhter Karagandy on Wednesday night, have been handed a brutal group including Barcelona, AC Milan and Ajax.
Manager Neil Lennon said: “It’s the best and the worst draw we could have got. In terms of glamour it doesn’t come any better but in terms of football it doesn’t come any harder.”
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE GROUP STAGE DRAW
The Gunners have won both previous home matches against Jurgen Klopp’s side
Arsene Wenger’s men are unbeaten on French soil, with a record of six wins and four draws
The Italian’s manager Rafael Benitez masterminded two wins over Arsenal last season while at Chelsea
United boast a 100 per cent record against Ukrainian teams in Europe with three wins from three games
David Moyes’s team are unbeaten in their four Champions League contests against Leverkusen
Spain has proved a difficult destination for United who have won one of their last nine games there
Chelsea won 5-2 on aggregate against the Swiss side in last season’s Europa League semi-final
Schalke have taken just one point from their opening three league games and have never beaten the Blues
In their only two previous visits to Romania, Jose Mourinho’s side have failed to win
City lost a pre-season friendly 2-1 to the European champions now managed by Pep Guardiola
The Russian champions have never played against Manuel Pellegrini’s men
The Czech champions are set to embark on their third season in Europe’s premier club competition
Group B: Juventus, Galatasaray, Real Madrid, Copenhagen
Group C: Paris Saint-Germain, Benfica, Anderlecht, Olympiacos
Group G: Zenit St Petersburg, A Vienna, Porto, Atletico Madrid
Group H: Ajax, AC Milan, Celtic, Barcelona