Celtic & Arsenal in Euro showdown

Arsene Wenger and Tony Mowbray
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger and Celtic boss Tony Mowbray

Arsenal and Celtic have been drawn together in the Champions League play-off for a place in the group stage.

Celtic, who reached the play-offs with a dramatic 2-0 victory against Dinamo Moscow in Russia, will host the first leg at Parkhead on either 18/19 August.

Everton were paired with Czech Republic side Sigma Olomouc in the inaugural Europa League play-offs, while Fulham meet FC Amkar Perm from Russia.

Aston Villa play Rapid Vienna and Hearts face Croatia’s Dinamo Zagreb.

The Gunners were seeded but Celtic were not, which set up the prospect of an all-British confrontation.

Arsenal’s fourth place finish in the 2008/09 Premier League ensured their place in the play-off round, while Celtic overturned a first-leg deficit to beat Dinamo Moscow 2-1 on aggregate in the third qualifying round.

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Celtic first-team coach Mark Venus admitted it was precisely the draw he wanted to avoid.

“I think realistically it’s the draw that we probably wouldn’t have taken of the five teams,” he said.

“But we’ve got to look forward to it, enjoy it and relish it. I think it’s a great draw for Scottish football. It’s going to be a great game, a great European night.

“Arsenal are a talented bunch of footballers, a totally technical team, very patient in the build-up.”

“I hope they’ll maybe underestimate us. This is a big club, we’ve got some good footballers, there will be a big crowd.”

Celtic are hopeful the first leg will go ahead as planned on 18 August but, with a U2 concert taking place at Hampden Park on the same evening, the police may ask for the game to be put back 24 hours.

Friday’s draw was split into two paths – one featuring 10 non-champions from higher-ranked countries, such as Arsenal and Celtic, and the other featuring 10 champions from lower-ranked countries.

The five winners from each path will progress to the group stage where they will join the 22 automatic qualifiers, who include Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Rangers.

The Ibrox club could yet end up in the second pot of seeds. Four of the teams currently seeded above them have to qualify for the group stages.

If two of the four – from Arsenal, Lyon, Sporting Lisbon and Panathinaikos – fail to qualify, Rangers will move up from the third pot to the second, in theory giving them an easier group.

Venus excited by Arsenal draw

Last season, clubs contesting the Champions League proper earned between £4.6m-£20.4m.

In addition, they took home a share of the £237.31m television pot and match-day income, which for the top English clubs is about £3m per match, and BBC Radio 5 live’s Nigel Adderley believes qualification for the group stages is vital to Arsenal’ season.

“This is a long way from the low key qualifiers Arsenal have been able to stroll through in recent years,” he said.

“Arsene Wenger will be aware that defeat and demotion to the Europa League will cast a shadow across the whole season.”

The Europa League qualifying play-offs will be played on 20 and 27 August, while the Champions League ties will be staged on 18-19 August and 25-26 August, with a place in the group stage at stake in both competitions.

Fulham booked their place in the new competition on Thursday after a 6-0 aggregate win over Lithuanian side FK Vetra.

“I think we will be seeded,” said Hodgson after Thursday’s win. “That makes life a little bit easier. When you get this far you get teams dropping in from the Champions League like Dinamo Moscow.

“We also get the teams like the Italians and the Spanish. We have got a big hurdle to jump before we get to the group stages.”


Full Champions League play-off draw:

FC Sheriff v Olympiakos
SV Red Bull Salzburg v Maccabi Haifa
FK Ventspils v FC Zurich
FC Copenhagen v Apoel Nicosia
Levski Sofia v Debrecen
Lyon v Anderlecht
CELTIC v ARSENAL
FC Timisoara v VfB Stuttgart
Sporting v Fiorentina
Panathinaikos v Atletico Madrid

(The first legs are to played 18/19 August while the second legs will take place on 25/26 August)

Europa League play-off draw (British clubs only):

Dinamo Zagreb v HEARTS
EVERTON v Sigma Olomouc
FULHAM v Akmar Perm
Rapid Vienna v ASTON VILLA

(Matches to be played on 20 August)

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