Belfast Telegraph

Arsenal set to learn fate

Arsenal will be hoping to avoid Udinese and Rubin Kazan when the draw is made for the Champions League play-off round in Nyon on Friday.

The Gunners learnt their five potential opponents for this month's two-leg tie on Wednesday, which will determine whether they reach the lucrative group stage for the 14th year in a row.

Manager Arsene Wenger has cited the fact Arsenal have repeatedly qualified for the Champions League in order to defend his record in the wake of their six-year trophy drought. So failure in their matches on the weeks commencing August 15 and 22 would doubtless pile the pressure on the Frenchman.

As well as Italian side Udinese and Russians Rubin, Wenger's men could face FC Twente, FC Zurich or Odense, who finished runners-up in Holland, Switzerland and Denmark, respectively.

One of that trio would be a far more attractive prospect than Udinese and Rubin, due to the relative strength of Serie A and the Russian Premier League, as well as the amount of travel involved in a trip to Kazan.

Arsenal have never played either side but Rubin earnt a reputation for causing upsets in their two previous Champions League campaigns, winning 2-1 at Barcelona two years ago, as well as holding the eventual champions 1-1 at home last season.

Their 4-1 aggregate win over Dynamo Kiev in the third qualifying round, which they sealed last night, showed they cannot be underestimated this year either.

The Gunners have also never played Zurich but they do have history with both Twente and Odense.

They thrashed the former - then managed by Steve McClaren - 6-0 in the play-off round three years ago, while the latter were their opening opponents when they won the 1994 European Cup Winners' Cup.

Odense, who have never reached the Champions League group stage, won a thrilling third qualifying round second leg 4-3 at Panathinaikos last night to advance 5-4 on aggregate. Arsenal are seeded in the play-off round's 'league route', as are four-time European champions Bayern Munich, two-time winners Benfica, Villarreal and Lyon.

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