The draw of the Champions League group stages is eagerly anticipated, with all English sides looking to avoid the perennial powerhouses such as Barcelona and Real Madrid. Although Manchester City will have to contend with tournament holders Bayern Munich, Arsenal’s pool is certainly the most difficult of the Premier League representatives.
The likes of a trip to Shakhtar Donetsk for Manchester United will not be easy, but the Gunners will have to travel to three very hostile environments – the Stade Vélodrome, Signal Iduna Park and San Paolo. Marseille, Borussia Dortmund and Napoli lie in wait, but despite it being a tough task for Arsène Wenger’s men, it certainly isn’t a ‘group of death’ or an impossible mission of any description.
Marseille are arguably the most beatable of the three opponents, and Wenger will be counting his lucky stars that it wasn’t Paris Saint-Germain that came out of the hat instead. OM do sit on top of Ligue 1 currently with three wins from three domestic fixtures, but Arsenal must get positive results against the French outfit.
Marseille have some able forward players such as Dimitri Payet, André-Pierre Gignac and the Ayew brothers, who will look to get the goals to see them overcome the Gunners. However, a lack of household games at the back should mean that the games against the north Londoners will be full of goals.
A home win against Marseille at the Emirates is a must, and if the Gunners can get at least a point in France it will leave them in a good situation to progress.
Borussia Dortmund were last season’s surprise package, and were unlucky in losing out in the tournament final to Bundesliga rivals Bayern Munich at Wembley. This term no-one will be underestimating Jürgen Klopp’s charges, as their young stars have all shot themselves into the European limelight.
The loss of Mario Götze is one that will be felt at Signal Iduna Park, but the German outfit still have a plethora of attacking talent ready and waiting to hurt Arsenal. Hotshot Robert Lewandowski has stayed at the club for another season and will be the main threat, while Marco Reus is ready to take on Gotze’s role as chief playmaker.
Arsenal, and the rest of Europe for that matter, are now all aware of what Dortmund are capable of, and as such will enter any fixtures against the side with caution. Die Borussen will have a job on their hands to recreate last term’s heroics, but despite this still remain very difficult opponents to negotiate.
Napoli were the one team in pot 4 that everyone was keen to avoid, and Arsenal have certainly drawn the short straw in having to face Rafa Benítez’s men. The Naples-based outfit may well have lost Edinson Cavani over the summer, but have replaced the Uruguayan with arguably a more-rounded forward in the form of Gonzalo Higuaín.
It is a twist of fate that the Gunners will have to face the Argentine forward after weighing up a summer transfer move for the ex-Real Madrid star, but the South American is not the only threat to Arsenal’s qualification hopes. Higuain is supported by the likes of Marek Hamšík and Gökhan İnler, and, especially in Italy, Napoli will be a really difficult team to contain.
At the end of the day, you can only play whoever you are put up against, good or bad, and this is Champions League football – you will have to overcome some of the continent’s best to achieve glory. Arsenal have just as good a chance as any of the other sides to qualify and although it will be a tough group to negotiate, any two of the four teams could potentially make the knockout stages.