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Arsenal Verdict: Is finishing second better than topping the group?

Arsenal's Lukas Podolski celebrates scoring his side's second goal against Montpellier. Photo credit: Nick Potts/PA Wire. Arsenal's Lukas Podolski celebrates scoring his side's second goal against Montpellier. Photo credit: Nick Potts/PA Wire.

Thursday, November 22, 2012
3:03 PM

Arsenal are now safely through to the knock-out stages of the Champions League and debate will rage as to whether fans will prefer to win the group or finish second.

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Arsenal's Jack Wilshere opens the scoring against Montpellier five minutes into the second half. Photo: Nick Potts/PAArsenal's Jack Wilshere opens the scoring against Montpellier five minutes into the second half. Photo: Nick Potts/PA

A win over Olympiakos, coupled with Schalke failing to triumph will see the Gunners win group B. Any other combination of results will see them come in second.

Indeed, looking at the tables as things stand, there are potential perils awaiting in the next round, wherever they finish.

If they topped their pool, they could face Real Madrid but finishing second could set up a rematch against Barcelona.

With the competition so tight in this day and age, aside from home advantage in the second leg, there are no real added benefits to winning the group. Therefore, their game with Olympiakos does not really matter.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. Photo: Nick Potts/PA WireArsenal manager Arsene Wenger. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire

Who would Gunners fans rather face?

Porto or PSG? Malaga* or AC Milan? Borussia Dortmund* or Real Madrid? Shakhtar or Juventus? Bayern Munich or Valencia? Barcelona* or Benfica/Celtic? Or Galatasaray? (The team listed first are currently topping the group and those with the stars have won theirs. Arsenal can’t play Manchester United whatever happens.)

Of course, things can change in the final match-day meaning some of those second placed sides can win their group.

I can see the Gunners crashing out in the round of 16 – they can, of course, get through but the quality of these sides are going to be better than the Montpellier team they faced last night.

Imagine a situation where Arsenal win the group and then draw Real Madrid or a Juventus side who went on a 49-match unbeaten run before Inter Milan ended it earlier this month.

They could finish second and draw Barcelona or Bayern Munich – both of them are likely to spell an early exit.

As for the win over Montpellier, one word describes it – professional.

The Gunners just about got out of first gear where they had enough quality to see off the French side.

In fact, during the first half, it was sometimes more entertaining to watch the Montpellier fans in full voice.

There was a point where they did the Poznan for no real reason and by full time the Arsenal supporters in the stadium were enjoying them as well as the win.

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Arsenal

Nickname: The Gunners.

Ground: Emirates Stadium (capacity 60,361).

Founded: 1886.

Honours: First Division (until 1992) and Premier League: 1931, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1938, 1948, 1953, 1971, 1989, 1991, 1998, 2002, 2004.

FA Cup: 1930, 1936, 1950, 1971, 1989, 1991, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2005.

League Cup: 1987, 1993.

Fairs Cup: 1970.

Cup Winners’ Cup: 1994.

Leading goalscorer: Thierry Henry, 228.

Leading appearances: David O’Leary, 722.