Arsenal have qualified for the UEFA Women Champions League with new monetary rewards, so with a format revamp and the re-introduction of the Group Stage, where and when will the Gunners enter the tournament?
The access list for the the 2021/22 season was taken from the five-year association coefficient from 2015 to 2020. Manchester City’s defeats by Atletico Madrid two seasons in a row hurt the England coefficient badly. In the end, Spain ended up ranked in third place with England in fourth.
It means the Spanish champions go through to the lucrative group stage alongside the French and German champions, as well as the title holder. The England champions, Chelsea, will therefore enter the tournament in Qualifying Round 2 in the Champions’ path.
The England runners-up, Manchester City, also enter the tournament in Qualifying Round 2, but in the League path alongside five other runner-ups.
It is important to point out that the teams in the Champions’ path cannot play against the teams in the League path. BK Hacken, the Swedish champions, cannot be drawn against Arsenal, Bordeaux or Real Madrid, for example.
The England third placed team, Arsenal, will enter the tournament in Qualifying Round 1, in the League path alongside five other third-placed teams and 10 runner-up teams from the associations that qualify only two teams.
Arsenal will have to play four games to qualify for the Group stage.
Now, if we look at the impact of the title holders, who qualify directly through to the Group stage and what it means for the other teams:
- If Chelsea win the 2020/21 tournament, they go to the Group stage as title holders and will be ranked number 1, regardless of their coefficient. The Danish champions take their place in Qualifying Round 2.
- If Barca win the 2020/21 tournament, they go to the Group stage as title holders and ranked number 1 side regardless of their coefficient. They have also won La Liga qualifying for the group stage, Chelsea will then enter the tournament at the group stage and the Danish champions take their place in Qualifying round 2.
Basically, the Danish champions are going to be promoted to Qualifying round 2, regardless of who wins the trophy in two weeks’ time.
The structure for qualifying Round 1 is as follows:
Teams will be seeded and drawn in a group of four with semi-finals on 18 August and a final/third place play-off on 21 August.
16 teams will enter the League path and 44 will enter the Champions path.
Therefore, four teams will go through to the second qualifying round through the League path and eleven via the Champions path.
If needed, a preliminary round will be played, before Qualifying round 1 for the champions from the lowest ranked associations.
Qualifying Round 2 structure is classic with home and away games and 10 teams competing for five spots in the League path and 14 teams competing for seven spots in the Champions path.
Again, teams will be seeded so that big teams should avoid each other, especially in the League path.
Those twelve teams will be added to the four teams that qualified directly for the Group Stage as previously mentioned.
First leg games will be played 31 August – 01 September and the second legs on 08 – 09 September.
For example, if we look at the big 6 Leagues that qualify three teams, we will have the following clubs through to the tournament:
Group stage: Title holder (Chelsea/ Barcelona), PSG or Lyon, FC Bayern or Wolfsburg, Barcelona or Levante or Real Madrid.
Qualifying round 2:
Champions path Chelsea, BK Hacken, Czech Champion
League path France runner-up, Germany runner-up ,Spain runner-up, Man City, Rosengard, Czech runner-up
Qualifying round 1:
League path France Bordeaux, Germany 3rd placed team, Spain 3rd placed team, Arsenal, Kristianstad, Czech Republic 3rd placed team, Danemark runner-up, Dutch runner-up, Italy runner-up, Okzhetpes, Rosenborg, Valur, Swiss runner-up, Scottish runner-up, Lokomotiv Moscow, FC Minsk
Champions path: 44 teams.
If we look at potential opponents for Arsenal, Qualifying Round 1 should be OK as Arsenal should be seeded and avoid the toughest opponents available.
Then, in Round 2, it will be a tougher task as teams entering in that round will likely have a higher coefficient than the Gunners. Bordeaux, Hoffenheim or Real Madrid would be a possible and tough draw. The Bordeaux manager, of course, being Pedro Martinez Losa, the former Arsenal manager.
The biggest problem will be when will pre-season start, as you would expect it to happen by early-to-mid July with all players selected for the Tokyo Olympics unavailable.
The Olympic Games tournament is expected to be played from 21 July to 06 August and any team reaching the semi-finals will be there until final day.
With only 12 days before Qualifying round 1 and players needing a break from playing a very intense tournament, never mind the jet lag, it would taking a risk to have the Olympics players involved without a break, especially for those who also be involved in the Euro 2022 the following summer.
The new format will make a for very exciting, as well as lucrative tournament, as long as the teams make their group stage.
The Arsenal will have to hit the ground running because all the Champions League qualifiers are likely to be played before the new FA WSL season starts.