Arsenal prepare for difficult opener away at Ligue 1 battlers…
September 18 – Marseille v Arsenal
October 1 – Arsenal v Napoli
October 22 – Arsenal v Dortmund
November 6 – Dortmund v Arsenal
November 26 – Arsenal v Marseille
December 11 – Napoli v Arsenal
Dortmund are undoubtedly the form team in European football right now. They have scored 15 goals in the Bundesliga this season, which is more than any other club in Europe, and are sitting pretty at the top of the table with five wins from five matches. In Robert Leandowski and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang they have lethal forwards who have already scored ten goals between them this term. Under Jurgen Klopp, last season’s Champions League finalists play fantastic, free-flowing football. At thier best, virtually nobody can live with them – as Jose Mourinho found out last season when the German outfit thrashed them 4-0 in the Champions League semi-finals. To put it simply, Arsenal could hardly have got a worse draw than Dortmund.
After selling Edinson Cavani to PSG for £57m, Napoli spent a whopping £76m over the summer, including £33m on brilliant Argentine striker Gonzalo Higuain. Rafa Benitez’s new side have hit the ground running in Serie A, too – like Dortmund, winning every single one of their matches and topping the table. Slovakian midfielder Marek Hamsik has been particualry impressive, and Napoli could face another mammoth struggle to keep hold of the star at the end of the season, following this summer’s Cavani saga. At the back, Liverpool loanee keeper Pepe Reina and his Spanish compatriot Raul Albiol have shored up the defence, and Napoli could be genuine Serie A contenders and outside Champions League contenders this term. Benitez has a fantastic record in the Champions League, too, getting Liverpool to two finals in three seasons between 2005 and 2007.
The French side are the worst team in the group, and Arsenal will need to pick up points when they play them – just as Napoli and Dortmund will expect to. The French side spent £13m on young attacking midfield prospect Florian Thauvin in the summer, but he will not be expected to carry Marseille through this mega-tough group just yet. Dimitri Payet also arrived in the summer, who created more chances than any player in Ligue 1 other than Marseille teammate Valbuena. Marseille’s prospects rely heavily on the attacking capabilities of these two French internationals. Marseille have picked up 10 points from their opening five Ligue 1 matches, but anything they do in the Champions League will be a bonus.
Despite the incredibly hard group Arsenal have been dealt, anything other than qualification will be regarded as a serious failure.
The Gunners will take on the weakest team in the group first on Wednesday evening, and Wenger will be desperate to leave France with three points before welcoming the ultra-impressive Dortmund and Napoli sides to the Emirates.
Arsenal will need points on the board – probably at least six – before the second three games in the group. Then, Arsenal have to travel to Dortmund and Napoli, two places where it will be very difficult to chase a win.
Essentially, to qualify, Arsenal need to beat Marseille home and away, and then have a winning record against one of either Napoli or Dortmund. If they can draw away from home against Napoli for instance, but beat them at the Emirates – they will have a very good chance of qualification regardless of their results against Dortmund.
Prediction: 2nd place finish, nervously qualifying behind Dortmund.