Real Madrid were knocked out the Champions League last night, leaving the trio of Manchester United, Lyon and Bayern Munich to join Arsenal in the quarter-finals.
No-one would argue against the fact that with Madrid topping the Spanish league and players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka in their team they looked a decent chance of winning the competition this season. And while their recent record in the Champions League is quite simply pathetic – six Round of 16 defeats in a row – Madrid’s exit makes Arsenal’s life just that little bit easier.
The Premier League will resume this weekend but with half of the final eight quarter-finalists decided, I do feel like lingering on the Champions League and the reality of us actually winning the big-eared trophy.
Our form this season in the league would indicate that facing Manchester United or Chelsea (if they get through) in the next round is probably going to cause us some trouble. Bayern Munich have Arjen Robben in form and Franck Ribery back from injury and despite a schizophrenic season have somehow made their way to the summit of the Bundesliga.
As for Madrid’s conquerors, Lyon are a unit that have exceptional talent and a remarkable tactician at the head of their operations.
Claude Puel produced the masterstroke of the European season against Madrid overnight by pulling of Jean-Alain Boumsong and asking Jeromy Toulalan to play at centre-back. The move freed up Cris to play as a sweeper and clogged the midfield to nullify Real and provide a platform for Cesar Delgado and Miralem Pjanic to exert their attacking influence on the game.
If Puel, who actually served as captain in the Monaco side Arsene Wenger managed all those years ago, continues to show such tactical acumen his Lyon side are likely to cause us real problems should we meet them in the next round or beyond. Lyon are a team to avoid, I feel.
Of the four positions still up for grabs I would put my house on Sevilla, Barcelona and Bordeaux to qualify. Meanwhile Chelsea v Inter Milan is as balanced a tie as you will ever see with the winner likely assume the status of competition favourites.
Barcelona’s qualities do not need repeating while Bordeaux are much like Lyon, guided by a superb manager in Laurent Blanc and possessing the sort of team ethic that saw Porto win the trophy in 2003. Should Arsenal face the French champions there will also be the added novelty of attempting to preventing Marouane Chamakh, a man set to join our club at the end of the season, from having a telling impact on the tie.
Sevilla are probably the weakest of all the prospective opponents in eyes: always hovering around the Champions League places in Spain but only really making an impact in the second tier of European competition with two UEFA Cup wins in 2006 and 2007. They are a good side but if I had to choose the opponent that would offer us the best hope of getting through to the semi-finals it would be them.
I suppose what this is all amounting to is the old cliche that there are no really easy games left at this level of the Champions League. We are certainly a good chance of winning the tournament for the first time in our history this season yet there is still a very long way to go.
But with the quality of teams on show it will be hard not to enjoy every minute of it.
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