Arsenal v Udinese;
Bayern Munich v FC Zurich;Â Lyon v Rubin Kazan;Â FC Twente v Benfica;
Wisla Krakow v Apoel Nicosia; Maccabi Haifa v Genk;Â Dinamo Zagreb v Malmo FF;Â FC Copenhagen v Plzen;Â BATE v SK Sturm Graz;Â Odense BK v Villarreal
Udinese can upset Arsenal:Â Arsenal fans have had a tough summer, and the Champions League has not been kind to Arsene Wenger’s team in the slightest. Udinese can stop the Gunners reaching the group stages for the first time in 14 years. No doubt, this is a major test for theÂ Professor.
Aside from all the issues of Arsenal’s disjointed transfer dealings, the North Londoners will be without both Samir Nasri and Robin van Persie for the first leg. Fitness concerns over Jack WIlshere and Cesc Fabregas enrich the negative outlook further, while playing the second leg in Italy also does the Premier Leaguers no favours.
On a brighter note for Arsenal, Udinese have sold Alexis Sanchez to Barcelona. That is a definite loss for the Zebretta in their final third. Yet, the northern Italian club have looked to reinvest the Sanchez money wisely, buying a host of lesser named players (Neuton, Zeljko Brkic, Abdoul Sissoko, Thierry Doubai, Barreto, Diego Fabbrini and Danilo), leaving their starting XI something of an unknown for the upcoming season.
That said, many of last season’s stars also remain at Udinese.Â Mauricio Isla is aÂ fantasticÂ Chilean full-back, GhannianÂ Kwadwo Asamoah is a midfielder with the lot, while up-top German Denis,Â Antonio Di Natale and Antonio Floro Flores supply the firepower.
The battle of the English and Italian fourth-placers is a real coin-toss, and it would be no surprise if Arsenal lost the tie.
Bayern luck out, Lyon & Benfica not so much: Of the other big boys in the final round of qualifiers Bayern Munich were left smiling like a Cheshire cat.Â FC Zurich are a side with limited Champions League experience, while the close proximity between Germany and Switzerland mean that the Bavarians will be clued-up to the eyeballs aboutÂ their opponents. The Bundesligers may have suffered last season, but they avoided the short straw here.
The same can’t be said of Lyon. With all the waves caused by PSG this summer, the sense that this year could finally be the year that France shines in the Champions LeagueÂ had been gaining slight traction. Yet drawing Rubin Kazan, who destroyed Dynamo Kiev in the last round and who are already playing at top speed with the earlyÂ seasonÂ start in Russia, is basically as tough as it could have gotten forÂ Remi Garde’s men.
Benfica, twice winners of the European Cup, also pulled a tough draw against Twente.Â The Eredivise outfit beat Romanian team Vaslui in the 3rd qualifying round, and they also won the Dutch Super Cup last week, beating champions Ajax 2-1. Moreover, Twente pose some difficult tactical problems with giant striker Marc Janko working alongside the likes ofÂ Bryan Ruiz and Luuk de Jong, while in midfielderÂ Denny Landzaat and Nacer Chadli pack a punch.
Nevertheless the Eagles, and Portuguese sides in general, will know that they have a decent record at large against Dutch teams. They will also be pleased that the second leg is on home soil, whilst they can count their lucky stars they avoided some of the other teams in the draw.
The Minnows: It’s a black mark against the Champions League that the concept of minnows, or no-hopers, exists. Suspending that gripe however, a host of lessor known sides are also on the verge of reaching the Champions League group stages. Which is great for them.
FC Copenhagen, who escaped last season’s groups only to get knocked out by Chelsea, will be confident of getting past Plzen. Similarly Villarreal, the tiny Spanish side who have beenÂ overachievingÂ for several years now, will believe they have too much in their locker to go out to Odense.
Israeli football is well represented in the draw.Â Wisla Krakow will look to their Jewish goalgetter Maor Melikson to advance them past Apoel, while Maccabi Haifa welcome Genk (who have Israeli forward ElyanivÂ Barda leading their line) in a tie that probably slightly favours the Belgians.
On the final two games back Dinamo Zagreb to knock out Rangers-conquerorsÂ Malmo, while BATE Borisov should turn over Sturm Graz.