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Fresh from playing a role in Russia's successful bid to stage the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Andrey Arshavin is certain Arsenal FC will once again be hosting UEFA Champions League football in the spring.
For the Gunners to guarantee a spot in the last 16 of Europe's premier club competition for the 11th successive season, Arshavin and Co must overcome Group H strugglers FK Partizan. Having suffered back-to-back losses to section leaders FC Shakhtar Donetsk and SC Braga, the north London club could be forgiven for feeling a touch apprehensive about their situation. Not Arshavin, though, who said: "We are not nervous at all.
We know we have to win and we will do it."
While Arshavin is confident of progress, winning the group is another matter. Should Arsène Wenger's team prevail, to finish top they would require Braga to do what no side has done in 52 matches against Shakhtar dating back to 22 October 2008: win in Donetsk. Unsurprisingly, the Russian international does not hold out much hope.
"We have no chance of finishing first," conceded Arshavin, who opened the scoring and squandered a penalty in Arsenal's 3-1 win in Belgrade on Matchday 2. "Braga might get a draw, maximum; Shakhtar will be top. Before we played at home I said Shakhtar and Braga were good teams, especially at home, and unfortunately against us they showed that."
In the event of the Premier League pacesetters finishing runners-up, they could be handed a tie against one of Europe's heavyweights, when the draw takes place on 17 December. Such an outcome would not faze Arshavin, however. "
Arsenal always want to win the Champions League and if you want to win it, you will meet good teams like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United or Chelsea," he added. "It doesn't matter when it will be, whether it's the last 16, quarter-final or semi-final."
On Russia winning the right to organise the World Cup in eight years' time, the 29-year-old attacking midfielder ‒ who was present at the ballot in Zurich last Thursday in his role as a bid ambassador ‒ said: "For me it's difficult to talk about England's bid because obviously I supported my country and I'm happy for Russia. It will give us a lot of things to do and it will enable the country to improve, not just in football terms."
Leading the English top flight by a point and through to the League Cup semi-finals, Arsenal are enjoying themselves domestically. After Partizan, Wenger's side face a testing assignment away to second-placed Manchester United FC on Monday, when, hopes Arshavin, the Gunners will reaffirm their credentials for a first league title since 2004.
"I saw the table in the newspaper and it said we have the same points [as last season] but other teams had more, and that's why we are top," said the former FC Zenit St Petersburg favourite. "We are top but in a week's time we have a big game against Manchester United and again we have the chance to show everyone we are strong. If we can do it then we are in a strong position."
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