There will undoubtedly be a lot of articles over the next day or so that label Arsenal’s Champions League draw as “easy”.
In truth, it is anything but.
Shakhtar Donetsk, Sporting Braga and Partizan Belgrade are not big names in European football, but once the novelty factor of Eduardo’s early reunion with Arsenal subsides a couple of harsh truths will emerge from this draw.
For starters, our boys have a lot traveling to do.
Braga might not be too far away (and have a unique and beautiful stadium) but Belgrade is while Donetsk is the second-most Eastern club in the Champions League after Rubin Kazan.
At this stage of the tournament I consider travel to be far more of a concern than the quality of the opposition because of the knock-on effect long trips have on the following Premier League fixtures.
A quick look at the league fixture list shows that five of the six games we have following Champions League outings are away from home and exceptionally difficult games: Sunderland after Matchday 1, Chelsea after Matchday 2, Manchester City after Matchday 3, Aston Villa after Matchday 5 and Manchester United after Matchday 6.
Things are kicked off with a home game to Braga on Matchday 1, which should see three points secured.
The only home game, against Newcastle after Matchday 4, follows the most difficult fixture of the group, Shakhtar Donetsk away. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see points dropped.
The thought of playing Chelsea at Stamford Bridge three days after a long trip to Belgrade is a scary one, particularly as they have a laughably easy corresponding fixture at home to mighty MSK Zilina.
Eduardo’s return to Emirates will come three days before a trip to Manchester City on Matchday 3 while Braga away comes four days before a visit to Villa Park.
Perhaps the most important thing for Arsenal to do is qualify early.
With an away trip to Old Trafford following a home game against Partizan Belgrade on Matchday 6 fielding a reserve team could be significant, particularly if United are also comfortably through.
Arsenal should qualify from Group H comfortably, as we usually do, but the impacts of some very long trips and awkward fixtures may be felt domestically.
As such, any mention of the word “easy” to describe this group would be naive.
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