Arsenal and Chelsea have been handed the toughest possible draws in the Women's Champions League, with both facing huge obstacles to overcome if they are to reach the last eight of the competition.
Arsenal will face the holders Lyon and Italian champions Juventus, who reached last season's quarter-finals, along with FC Zurich, with only two teams going through from each group.
Women's Super League winners Chelsea, who were seeded in the top pot for the draw, were handed meetings with Paris St-Germain and Real Madrid, as well as Albanian league winners Vllaznia, with Emma Hayes' side similarly having been placed in another tricky group last term and subsequently been knocked out at the group stage.
Both English clubs were unfortunate to be given clashes with Juventus and Real Madrid, who were the two strongest sides in Pot 3 of the draw process, with Swedish outfit Rosengard and St Polten of Austria having been the alternative options from that group, neither of whom would have been expected to cause the WSL sides too many problems.
Czech side Slavia Prague, undoubtedly the weakest team on paper in Pot 2 could have faced Chelsea, but evaded them with Hayes' side instead getting a tricky away trip – at least from a travel point of view – in Pot 4 when they will have to fly 1,500 miles each way to Albania.
Reunions, rivalries and a poor record that needs to change
On the plus side for Arsenal, because all three of the group games will be staged at the Emirates Stadium, although their fixture list is tougher than they might have hoped, their high-profile opponents will at least give them extra hope of attracting huge crowds, off the back of bringing in a WSL record attendance of 47,367 for last month's north London derby at the same venue.
Arsenal also face a reunion with their former manager Joe Montemurro, whose side helped to knock out Chelsea in the group stage last year, as well as a formidable Lyon side who have dominated the sport in the modern era and have won a record eight European titles. That means stars such as Norway's Ada Hegerberg, a former Ballon d'Or winner, are coming to the Emirates.
— Ian Wright (@IanWright0) October 3, 2022
Chelsea will have to be at their best to finish in the top two in their group containing PSG and Real Madrid, with the latter – inspired by Scotland's Caroline Weir – having eliminated Manchester City in the qualifying rounds two seasons running. PSG have been runners-up twice, and have made the semi-finals five times.
Any Arsenal and Chelsea fans hoping to see their teams get a comfortable passage to the knockout stages may react to this draw with frustration, however, these box-office fixtures are also a great way to stir up rousing rivalries that the women's game needs to keep growing. The purpose of changing the format of the Women's Champions League 12 months ago was to create more top-end clashes of the continent's best sides and, although the four groups are hugely imbalanced, they certainly should deliver drama.
And if the English teams want to be the best, they will have to beat the best, and about time too. No English side has won the title for 15 years, since Arsenal's sole success in 2007, and Chelsea's appearance in the final in 2021 was only the second by any British women's club.
It's about time that feeble record changed, with WSL sides frequently trailing behind French, German and Spanish teams in the competition.