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Analysis: Arsenal, Manchester City handed tough Champions League draw

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Following the draw for the 2014-15 UEFA Champions League group stage on Thursday, fans of Arsenal and Manchester City will be feeling particularly hard done by.

For the second straight season both sides were handed tough draws and will face German giants to make it through to the knockout stages.

[FULL DRAW: Champions League group stage]

Manchester City were perhaps dealt the worst hand as they face Bayern Munich (again), CSKA Moscow (again) and then travel to Italy to face AS Roma. Ouch.

As for Arsenal, the Gunners will face Borussia Dortmund for the third time in the last four seasons at the group stage, while Turkish giants Galatasaray and tricky Belgian outfit Anderlecht stand in their way. Not disastrous, but not too great. The other two English clubs got off pretty lightly as Chelsea will face Schalke, Sporting Lisbon and Maribor. As for Liverpool, back in the UCL for the first time since 2009-10, they get reigning Champions Real Madrid, plus fairly negotiable ties against FC Basel and Ludogorets.

[RELATED: Latest Champions League news]

Let’s break down Arsenal and Man City’s groups below, and try to lift the optimism levels surrounding those clubs.

Arsenal

As we mentioned, the Gunners will face Dortmund for the third time in the last four UCL group stages and they have enjoyed a mixed bag of results against Jurgen Klopp’s side. Last season they lost to Dortmund 2-1 at home but then went to the Westfalenstadion and won 1-0. In 2011-12, Arsenal drew away 1-1 at Dortmund and beat them 2-1 at the Emirates in another narrow series. Expect these two to be battling it out for the top spot but heading to Turkey to play Galatasaray is no easy task. The Istanbul club have Cesare Prandelli in charge and have Wesley Sneijder as the playmaker in a hugely talented side.

Anderlecht should be the whipping boys, but who knows. A tough, tough group for the Gunners to negotiate. They would have expected an easier go at things after being a top seed and given the fact that Olivier Giroud is out injured until January at least, will Arsene Wenger go and spend big money on a striker to make sure they get through the UCL group stages? He probably should.

Group D: Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund, Galatasaray, Anderlecht

source: Reuters
Bayern and Man City collide for the second-straight season in the UCL.

Manchester City

The Citizens have only ever been in the UEFA Champions League for the last three seasons. Every time they have been handed a tough draw. In 2011-12 they got Bayern Munich, Napoli and Villarreal and missed out on the knockout stage by one point, then it was Borussia Dortmund, Real Madrid and Ajax in 2012-13 when they were humiliated and finished bottom of the group. Last season they made it out of the group, finally, but had to overcome Bayern Munich, CSKA Moscow and Viktoria Plzen. Bayern beat City 3-1 at the Etihad but the Citizens won 3-2 at the Allianz. Not too shabby. So, for the second-straight season City have Bayern and CSKA. Munich are one of Europe’s powerhouses and have the extra incentive that the final is being played in their home country in Berlin. Pep Guardiola’s side will be the favorites to win this group, while Man City and AS Roma will be expected to push them all the way.

Roma were the real kickers here, as the Italian giants were in the fourth pot and were the team everyone wanted to avoid. One of Europe’s most powerful teams, Italian giants Roma and a tricky trip to Russia awaits City. Not ideal at all for Manuel Pellegrini’s men as they continue their battle against UEFA, both with the Financial Fair Play sanctions and the ridiculously tough groups they keep getting drawn in.

Group E: Bayern Munich, Manchester City, CSKA Moscow, Roma

After January camp, USMNT looks to rosters for World Cup, Olympic qualifying

at StubHub Center on January 31, 2016 in Carson, California.
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images
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The United States men’s national team finished its experimental January camp with a 2-0 record, and now trains its eyes on World Cup and Olympic qualifying.

The last part is critical not just because of the ramifications of a potential second-successive Olympic absence for the men’s U-23 side.

[ USMNT: Tops Iceland 3-2 | Knocks off Canada, too ]

The Yanks have to deftly divide their player pool because March 25 and 29 are not only the dates for the next round of World Cup qualifying matches — a home-and-home series with Guatemala — but also the dates for the U-23s’ pair of matches with Colombia.

That’s why Jordan Morris isn’t likely headed to Guatemala City, and the same is true for impressive January camper Jerome Kiesewetter and new Chelsea defender Matt Miazga.

[ JPW: Recapping the top stories from an intense Premier League weekend ]

Bobby Wood, John Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin are also eligible for the U-23s, but there’s the rub. All three are in good form for country, and only Yedlin isn’t playing well for his club (That’s because Sam Allardyce isn’t using him much at all. His substitute appearance against Liverpool was his first action since Jan. 9).

New England midfielder Lee Nguyen impressed Jurgen Klinsmann during January camp, and it’s hard to ignore the impact of Steve Birnbaum’s goal and assist.

Assuming health, here’s our best guess at who’s making the squad for Guatemala on March 25 and 29. It’s worth noting that six MLS clubs play on March 26 (NYC, New England, Vancouver, Houston, DC and Dallas):

Goalkeepers: Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson

Defenders: DeAndre Yedlin, John Brooks, Matt Besler, Steve Birnbaum, Geoff Cameron, Brad Evans, Jonathan Spector, Tim Ream

Midfielders: Fabian Johnson, Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Danny Williams, Lee Nguyen, Darlington Nagbe

Forwards: Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Gyasi Zardes, Bobby Wood, Aron Johannsson

Report: Atletico’s Fernando Torres has interest from MLS, NASL

Real Madrid v Atletico de Madrid - Copa del Rey: Round of 16
Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images
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Spanish outlet Marca claims that a number of North American sides are among the clubs chasing Fernando Torres.

The Spanish striker has only scored more than 11 goals once since 2009-10, and is uncapped since 2014. But that doesn’t mean clubs from China to to the U.S. and the UAE to Japan aren’t interested in the 31-year-old.

[ JPW: Recapping the top stories from an intense Premier League weekend ]

The Marca report claims three MLS teams are interested and also name drops the New York Cosmos of the NASL, who’ve recently brought Venezuelan legend Juan Arango on board.

It’s hard to imagine anyone outside the MLS rich sides taking a risk on Torres. Maybe Montreal would look to reunite him with Didier Drogba, and Torres certainly has experience combining with New York City’s David Villa. As for the third… Orlando City? Chicago?

Your guess is as good as ours, though it could be moot if this is solely about money. China continues to spend well.

Difficult fixture run looms as Aston Villa aims for great escape

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - JANUARY 12:  Joleon Lescott of Aston Villa (3L) celebrates with team mates as he scores their first goal with a header during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Crystal Palace at Villa Park on January 12, 2016 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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Gabriel Agbonlahor is riding high, as the Premier League Player of the Week broke his duck this weekend and is thinking “great escape” for his Aston Villa side.

Villa has eight points in its last five matches, doubling its season total to 16. That’s still table bottom, but Remi Garde’s bunch would love to see their way out of the drop zone after a brutal start to the season under Tim Sherwood.

What would it take for Villa to pull that off, and avoid the first Premier League relegation in club history?

[ MORE: Premier League Team of the Week ]

Turns out, a lot.

There is no easy match in the next five, and Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal are all on the schedule after that.

Villa next five matches
Feb. 14 – vs. Liverpool
Feb. 27 – at Stoke City
March 1 – vs. Everton
March 5 – at Manchester City
March 12 – vs. Spurs

The Villans do have three relegation six-pointers left, and two of those are at Villa Park with Bournemouth and Newcastle United. Villa also heads to Swansea City.

But Villa has to make up 12 points on the Cherries, 11 on Swans and eight on the Magpies. And while they are within two goals difference of Newcastle, they have eight goals to make up on Bournemouth and 11 to make up on Swansea.

That doesn’t include Sunderland and Norwich, sides four and seven points ahead of the Villans (though both have tricky runs left as well).

If Garde’s club is to make its escape, it will be close to unbelievable. That it will close with a match against Arsenal makes it even trickier, but that would be just the final impressive note in what could only be considered a Garde-conducted masterpiece.

VIDEO: Recapping the top stories from an intense Week 25 in the Premier League

JPW at Stamford Bridge
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What a weekend. Let’s relive it.

Round 25 of the Premier League provided plenty more thrills, shocks and excitement as two unlikely title contenders — Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur — are pushing ahead.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Our own Joe Prince-Wright recaps all the major headlines from what could turn out to be a pivotal weekend in the Premier League title race.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League news

Click play on the video below to join JPW as he battles the elements and checks in from outside Stamford Bridge in London following Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United.