Arsenal midfielder Mathieu Flamini has gone on the record telling reporters that the only team he fears being drawn against in the knockout stages of the Champions League is Barcelona, according to Goal.
Arsenal did a Houdini of a recovery beating Olympiacos by a score of 0-3 in Piraeus on Wednesday night, booking themselves a place in the last 16 of the Champions League.
This followed a dreadful start to their Group F campaign in which they lost their opening two matches to Dinamo Zagreb and Olympiacos, before bouncing back with a 2-0 win against Bayern Munich at the Emirates.
Things did not go so well for the Gunners when they played Bayern Munich for the second time at the Allianz Arena however, getting trounced by the Bavarian giants 5-1. They then got a vital win over Zagreb at home, setting up a must-win final game against Greek champions Olympiacos.
As we all know, Arsenal produced a spectacular win to finish second in the group behind Bayern Munich and will now face the prospect of being drawn to play Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, VfL Wolfsburg or Zenit St Petersburg in the next round.
Given the choices available, Flamini says the only team that he does not want to be drawn against when the selection takes place in Nyon, Switzerland on Monday is defending champions Barcelona.
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“We obviously don’t want Barcelona as they are a top team but for the rest, we will see,” said the 31-year-old, as quoted by Goal.
Flamini added that a shock result against Monaco that knocked them out of the competition last season would not happen again: “We played Monaco last year and we thought it would maybe [be] a bit easier and it was not the case.
“So whoever we play, we will give 100 per cent.”
Looking at the teams we could draw, the obvious choice would be Zenit. Given the way Monaco worked out for us last season however, when we all just assumed that the Gunners would win, it may not actually be that bad to draw Barcelona.
The Champions League is all about those hair-raising, heart-stopping matches against the biggest teams in the world. Plus, at some point we have to assume that our paths will cross, so why not deal with Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar now rather than worry about them down the road.
Also, in case you did not know, no team in the modern era of the Champions League has ever won back-to-back titles, so why should we all assume Barcelona is going to be the first team to do so?