If Arsene Wenger’s players needed any motivation to win this evening’s match and try to top Group A, this is it. Just 28% of group runners-up get through their round-of-16 tie and into the quarter-finals.
The Gunners face FC Basel this evening knowing that they will have to better PSG’s result against Ludogorets in Paris in order to finish first. Generally, the top-placed teams are handed an easier path in the final with a kinder draw and a home tie for the second leg.
For Arsenal particularly, Champions League draws have been anything but kind in recent seasons. It’s now six consecutive years they’ve made it to the last 16 and six consecutive years they’ve been knocked out in the last 16. Admittedly there have been some unkind draws – most notably to Bayern Munich and FC Barcelona – but the 2014-15 loss to Monaco was unforgiveable.
It was always assumed that finishing top was important but these stats really do prove it. Just one eventual winner of the Champions League in the last decade has qualified as runners-up in their groups, Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan in 2010. Furthermore, a whopping 80% of the finalists in the last twelve years have finished top of their groups.
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Admittedly, there are some exceptions to this. As well as Mourinho’s Inter there was a Porto side in 2004 which was managed by, well, Jose Mourinho. The following season’s cup was also won by a team which finished second in their group: Liverpool in Istanbul.
The odds are stacked against the Gunners finishing top this evening and, as a result, are stacked even more against them winning the Champions League outright. However, given the teams which look set to finish as runners-up in their respective groups, this season could be something of an anomaly.