Arsenal are among the 20 clubs that will discover the last obstacle en route to reaching the lucrative group stage of the UEFA Champions League when the draw for the playoffs of the world’s premier club competition is made in Nyon, Switzerland, on Friday. The draw will be split into two sections, where matchups will be picked between seeded and unseeded teams.
The champions route, designed to give more places to winners of lower ranking leagues, is made up of 10 sides that have already progressed through at least one previous round of qualifying and includes former Champions League winners Celtic and Steaua Bucharest. Arsenal, of course, find themselves in the non-champions section and will be seeded alongside fellow experienced European campaigners Milan, Lyon, Schalke and Zenit St Petersburg. Each of those sides will be drawn against one of PSV Eindhoven, Metalist Kharkiv, Fenerbahce, Real Soceidead or Pacos de Ferreira.
In terms of European pedigree, Metalist and Pacos de Ferreira would be the most welcome opponents for the Gunners, with neither side having previously appeared at any stage of the Champions League. Pacos de Ferreira were the surprise package of the Portuguese league last season, finishing third, but have since lost their young coach Paulo Fonseca to Porto. Former Portugal midfielder Costinha has now been handed the reins.
Metalist are more established in continental competition, having reached the knockout stages of the Europa League in the past three seasons. The Ukrainians’ participation in the Champions League this year remains in doubt, however, with a match-fixing allegation hanging over their head. A decision will be made in a disciplinary hearing next Tuesday.
A meeting with Real Sociedad, meanwhile, would provide a reunion with former Gunner Carlos Vela. The Mexican forward completed a permanent move away from the Emirates last summer and his 14 goals were one of the main reasons that the Spanish side were able to break into La Liga’s top four. Jagoba Arrasate’s side have been weakened during this close season, however, with talented Spain Under-21 midfielder Asier Illarramendi leaving for Real Madrid.
PSV Eindhoven, too, have been hit by player sales during the summer. Indeed, in his first full season in charge, Phillip Cocu will have to deal with a host of significant departures, including Kevin Strootman, Dries Mertens, Jermaine Lens and Erik Pieters.
In contrast, Fenerbahce have strengthened after finishing as runners-up to Galatasaray in the Turkish Super League. Having already brought in experienced Portugal international Bruno Alves, they have now spent €13 million (£11.2m) on Nigeria striker Emmanuel Emenike.
League route Seeded: Arsenal, Milan, Olympique Lyonnais, Schalke, and Zenit St Petersburg Unseeded: Fenerbahce, Metalist Kharkiv, Pacos de Ferreira, PSV Eindhoven, Real Sociedad
Champions route Seeded: Basel, Celtic, Dinamo Zagreb, Steaua Bucharest, Viktoria Plzen Unseeded: Austria Vienna, Legia Warsaw, Ludogorets Razgrad, Maribor, Shakhtar Karagandy
Where to watch: The draw for the playoff round of the Champions League will be made at 5.45 a.m. ET. A live stream will be available on UEFA.com.