Arsenal Women will face Okzhetpes on August 18

Credit: PA

Arsenal will face Okzhetpes of Kazakhstan in their first Women’s Champions League fixture next season in what will be their new head coach Jonas Eidevall’s first competitive game in charge.

If the north Londoners win their opening game on August 18 they would then also have to overcome the winners of a tie between PSV or Lokomotiv Moscow in order to reach the second round.

Under the revamped format those four sides were drawn into what is, in essence, a mini-tournament – with two semi-finals and a final – and only one will progress to round two. 

Britain’s only European champions to date, Arsenal qualified for this season’s Champions League by finishing third in the Women’s Super League last term meaning they are in the ‘league path’ for non-title winners.

The first and second rounds have been divided in two sections, to separate teams who won their domestic league from those who finished second or third, ensuring more ‘champions’ will reach the last-16 group stage – which has been introduced to the competition for the first time.

Arsenal’s pathway to qualify for the group stage is not easy but could have been tougher. They have managed to avoid Bordeaux, AC Milan and Danish side Brondby, who have a strong pedigree in women’s football, in the first round.

Meanwhile, Scottish champions Glasgow City will start their campaign against Malta’s Birkirkara, Celtic will meet Spanish side Levante and Swansea City will take on CSKA Moscow.

Teams including Manchester City and former winners Lyon and Wolfsburg will enter the competition at the second round.

Chelsea, as English champions, will automatically progress to the group stage.

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The new format explained

This season the women’s competition will feature a group stage for the first time as it moves away from a straight knockout format. Four groups of four will contest the last-16 using the round-robin format synonymous with the men’s Champions League.

However, there are two rounds before the group stage gets under way, starting with the 15 ‘mini-tournaments’ which make up the first round. The 15 winners who progress will join nine sides who have automatically qualified for round two, including three champions from lower-ranked leagues and six runners-up. 

This includes Lyon, Wolfsburg, Manchester City, Slavia Prague, Real Madrid and incoming Arsenal boss Eidevall’s current team, Rosengard.

There will be 24 teams in the second round, with the 12 winners progressing to the group stage where they will be joined by four more automatic qualifiers.

Ultimately the 16 teams in the group stage will be made up of:

  • The four automatic qualifiers: Barcelona, Chelsea, Bayern Munich and PSG
  • Seven clubs from the ‘champions path’ – which could include Juventus, Glasgow City and Swansea City
  • Five clubs from the ‘league path’ of teams who were not domestic champions – such as Arsenal, Man City and Lyon.

The top two teams in each group will go through to the quarter-finals, when the traditional two-legged knockout ties begin, on the road to the final in Turin in May 2022.

What else will be different this season?

Once the competition reaches the knockout stages (the quarter-finals), Var will be introduced – it was previously only available for the final.

Among the other major changes following the competition’s revamp, the prize fund has increase more than four-fold, with a €24 million euro prize pot now set to be distributed. Teams who reach the group stage will be guaranteed a minimum of €400,000, while the eventual winners could claim up to €1.4m.

Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin has described the revamp as a “giant step” for the women’s game, with the men’s competition understood to have agreed to commit more funds each season.

Who are the favourites?

After winning their first title in May with a dominant 4-0 win over Chelsea in the final in Sweden, Catalan giants Barcelona will be the team to beat in 2021/22.

However, Lyon – who won the previous five titles – are expected to challenge yet again, along with their domestic rivals PSG.

Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal could all be in contention, with England’s top flight being the most professional of Europe’s domestic divisions. Chelsea will be bidding to go one better this time around, after reaching their first European final last term.

German sides Bayern Munich and Wolfsburg will also be strong again, albeit Wolfsburg could face a tough round-two draw. Meanwhile, Italian champions Juventus will hope to mount a serious bid for glory for the first time in their history, after relatively early exits in recent years.

DAZN agrees four-year global deal

By Tom Garry

Broadcast coverage of the competition is set to reach new heights, after streaming platform DAZN agreed a four-year deal to exclusively show the competition live from the group stage to the final.

The deal will see DAZN make 61 matches per season free to watch on YouTube globally for the first two seasons of the agreement, will 19 games per season free on YouTube in the third and fourth years of the deal, with the remainder available through subscription.

It is the first time that the broadcast rights for the women’s competition have been sold centrally.

However, none of the matches in rounds prior to the group stage are included in the rights agreement, so details of how to watch Arsenal’s early-round games live – if at all – are yet to be confirmed.