The Champions League last 16 will include Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City who will all be competing for the biggest prize in European club football.
Arsenal finished second to Borussia Dortmund in their group and faced the rather daunting possibility of paying some of Europe’s biggest powerhouses in the next round. Fortunately for Arsene Wenger, Arsenal were drawn against French side AS Monaco, a club that Wenger used to manage over 20 years ago.
There is clearly no easy fixture in the last 16 of the Champions League. However, most Arsenal fans would have chosen AS Monaco as their preferred opponent of choice simply because it could be a very winnable tie for Wenger’s side. Monaco currently sit in sixth position in Ligue 1, trailing league leaders Marseille by nine points. In terms of qualification for the last 16, Monaco finished top of Group C with 11 points as Bayer Leverkusen finished in second place with a tally of 10 points. Arsenal fans will be encouraged by the fact that they are playing the winner of one of the weakest groups in the competition. Although Arsenal may be pleased with the draw, they cannot underestimate their opponents.
Monaco have an experienced spine to their team, with former Chelsea defender Ricardo Carvalho and French international Jeremy Toulalan occupying spots in defence and midfield. Up front is the unmistakable figure of Dimitar Berbatov, who has found a new lease of life since he joined Monaco from Fulham last season. His nonchalant style has barely changed and the slower pace of the French league suit his game well. Although the spine of the team is an ageing one, it also has undoubted quality. Other players like Joao Moutinho and Yannick Carrasco have been impressive for the French side this season and they will undoubtedly pose a threat to Arsenal but the Gunners should have enough quality to see themselves through rather comfortably.
Slightly contrasting fortunes await both Manchester City and Chelsea in the next round of the Champions League. The Citizens face Spanish giants Barcelona in what is going to be their biggest test in European football to date, as they face a strike force of Neymar, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez will be a defensive headache for Manuel Pellegrini, who may look to the experience of Martin Demichelis to partner Vincent Kompany in the centre of defence.
Manchester City’s hopes may rest on who they have playing up front across the tie. There is no doubt that Sergio Aguero has been in fine form this season and Pellegrini will be hoping that the striker returns from injury sooner rather than later. City may find chances few and far between over both legs so they will need a world-class finisher up front if they really want to cause the Catalan giants problems. Although Pellegrini’s side have done very well to make the last 16, a clash against Barcelona would have been something many City fans would have wanted to avoid. However, with Aguero in the team they have beaten the likes of Bayern Munich and the resilience shown in Rome could suggest that Manchester City are finally maturing into a top European side.
Finally, Chelsea will come up against French champions Paris Saint-Germain. The two sides faced each other in last season’s Champions League and Mourinho’s side were victorious over the two legs, with Demba Ba striking late at Stamford Bridge to put Chelsea through on the away goals rule and another close tie should be expected this time around. PSG are currently second in Ligue 1 and boast the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani up front. The tie will also see a return to Stamford Bridge for David Luiz, who completed a rather surprising £50 million switch to Paris in the summer. Since the sides last met, Chelsea fans will feel like they are a stronger team due to the additions of Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa. The Blues have drawn one of the stronger second-placed teams but Mourinho will feel as if his current Chelsea squad have the players to overturn the Parisians once again.