Arsenal FC are once again negotiating a harder qualifying route to the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League than had been anticipated when the draw was made in August. They tackle PSV Eindhoven tonight knowing that defeat could jeopardise their chances of making it through from Group E.
The pick of tonight's remaining Matchday 5 ties, to be watched by a record European crowd for the Philips stadium, finds the Dutch side seeking revenge for their opening-game defeat at Highbury. Since then Guus Hiddink's men have put together three successive victories while Arsenal have been less than convincing, drawing three.
Arsenal at risk
It was a similar story 12 months ago when Arsenal got off to a poor start and only saved themselves with three wins in the last three matches. The situation is healthier this time for a team who would have figured in most pundits' list of likely Champions League winners but they will be aware that a loss tonight could let in Panathinaikos FC who lie just a point behind and who arguably have the less daunting final fixtures.
"This is what it is all about - the special games," said Hiddink, whose side will progress if they win or if Panathinaikos lose at Rosenborg BK. Either way that would be a celebration for the Eredivisie team who have never advanced beyond the group stages.
The situation in Groups F and G is much more clear cut. AC Milan and FC Barcelona share a six-point cushion at the head of Group F and both will go through with only a home draw tonight, leaving FC Shakhtar Donetsk and Celtic FC to battle it out for third spot.
In Group G, FC Internazionale Milano have already qualified and Werder Bremen are likely to follow them as they enjoy a five-point advantage over Valencia CF. Valencia must win at RSC Anderlecht but if Bremen beat Inter that will leave the Spanish champions out of the knockout phase. "We can't think about what is happening in Bremen," said Valencia coach Claudio Ranieri. "We have to focus on our match and then hope that Inter achieve something special."
Porto must win
In Group H, Chelsea are already assured of first place but there is a keen fight for second. All three sides are in contention although the hopes of reigning champions FC Porto are slimmest of all. Only a victory over PFC CSKA Moskva would definitely keep them in the race but the odds favour them becoming the first Champions League holders to depart at the initial group stage.
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