The draw for the final round of qualifying for the group stages of ths season’s UEFA Champions League took place Friday in Switzerland, with Celtic FC selected as Arsenal’s opponent in the Playoff Round.
The Glasgow side finished second to Rangers in last season’s Scottish Premier League, and will host the Gunners in the first of two legs on August 18, before heading to the Emirates for the return match on August 26.
For this year’s competition, UEFA set up two separate paths for group qualification — the Champions Path and the Non-champions Path. Arsenal were the highest of five “seeds” in the Non-champions Path (decided by Uefa club coefficient rankings), and could only have been drawn against one of the five lowest-ranked teams in that path, which consisted of Fiorentina, Atletico Madrid, Celtic, Anderlecht, and Romania’s FC Timisoara.
While advancing past Celtic would guarantee at least six Champions League ties this season, something considered to be a fiscal fundamental to a major club, manager Arsene Wenger told the club’s official web site that he believes entry into the group stages of the Champions League is more important to the football side of the club than the financial one.
Speaking to arsenal.com’s Richard Clarke the night before the draw, Wenger said: “It’s not crucial on the financial side of the club; it’s crucial on the football side. We want to play with the best and that means the Champions League group stage.
“We are conscious that we have tricky teams out there (in the playoff round), but on the other hand I don’t think anybody would like to play against Arsenal,” he added. “What is tricky is that we have an international friendly on the 12th for some of my players.
“Then we play on the 15th (at Everton), the 18th, the 22nd (vs. Portsmouth) and at Man United on the 29th,” continued Wenger. “It is a very heavy schedule and that’s why it’s important for me to find the right balance in every game.”
Player selection for that opening string of matches will be more limited, as Wenger finally announced (after reports surfaced elsewhere days ago) that Tomas Rosicky has indeed suffered an injury setback and could be out of action for more than a month.
Rosicky’s participation in three pre-season friendlies this summer were his first games since damaging his hamstring tendon in January 2008. And while this latest injury is also related to the hamstring, Wenger stated on Thursday that it is not a major setback for the Czech international.
Admitting on the club’s official site that, “It is worrying,” the manager added that “he was so sharp that it is difficult to accept that he has had a muscle injury. But it is not a major problem. You get that type of injury after you have been out for 18 months.”
Another first-teamer at Arsenal whose status is uncertain at the moment is defender Philippe Senderos, with media reports indicating he may soon be off to Everton in a transfer deal.
As arsenal.com’s Clarke reiterated on Thursday, “Wenger has opened the door for Senderos to leave Arsenal and the manager may go into the transfer market to sign a replacement.”
At a press conference to announce the club’s new “Charity of the Season” at Great Ormond Street Hospital, Wenger mentioned that he had adequate resources to cover the departure but was open to a new signing and did not rule out a swoop for Fulham defender Brede Hangeland, according to the story.
“At the moment there’s an interest from Everton (in Senderos) but he is still our player,” said the manager. “He has an opportunity to go because he has one year to go on his contract. We will see what happens in the next week.
“If he goes, and if there is an opportunity, then we will look,” continued Wenger. “But we still have Silvestre, Gallas, Djourou, Vermaelen and Song. That’s five centre backs.”
The manager concluded that he has had a look at Fulham’s Hangeland, but Arsenal has not yet contacted Fulham or contacted Hangeland. “We have not made our choice, so it is difficult to talk about names right now.”