Thoughts On The Champions League Draw

Group F: Arsenal – Marseille – Olympiacos – Borussia Dortmund.

That doesn’t look like a group of death to me but there is enough in there keep things on edge. Perhaps part of the reason is also that Arsenal will have to go on a long, consistent run before most fans regain complete confidence. The uncertainties on the transfer front don’t help matters either.

This year’s group is certainly tougher than last season’s where Shakhtar, Braga, and Partizan Belgrade provided the competition. Given that Arsenal failed to win that group – which played a big part in drawing Barcelona that led to the fateful second leg right along with the other Cup defeats – there is no reason to assume this season will be any easier.

If anything it will be much harder because the squad is undoubtedly weaker (at the moment) and the opponents stronger. In fairness, Arsene did try wholesale rotations in a couple of key away games last season which contributed to the second place in the group. If the first team plays all the games then first place should not be that difficult. The problem is, with fixtures piling up, playing without rotations is a sure-fire way of risking injuries and fatigue at the business end of the season if not earlier.

Marseille are a good team with an excellent manager in Deschamps. They will be hard to beat, especially at the 60K+ capacity Stade Velodrome. Many of their players are known to Gooners through the constant transfer speculation in the media with Lucho Gonzalez, Andre Ayew, and Mathieu Valbuena being the most recent ones. But, with due respect, I must say there were other much tougher teams in Pot B of the draw.

If we spin this around – which team would you rather have from the second pot – it’s hard to pick any other team over Marseille. Milan and Villareal are clearly stronger in my opinion while Valencia are always a challenge. We already know how strong Shakhtar can be. Benfica were no pushovers even if it was just a pre-season friendly. Arsenal don’t have a great record in Russia so CSKA might not be as easy as some would like to think. Lyon are probably in the same boat as Marseille. All-in-all Deschamp’s side are not the worst possible opponents.

From the timing point of view, Arsenal go to France, on Oct 19, between home games with Sunderland and Stoke. That should lessen the impact of travel considerably. The return leg at home is on 1st Nov after the visit to Stamford Bridge and before hosting West Brom.

Olympiacos will be the third team in the pool. Arsenal played them as recently as the group stage of the 2009-10 season where the home leg was won 2-0 but the return was lost by half that score. We must not forget that was a virtually meaningless last game and Wenger gave a chance to Tom Cruise, Bartley, Merida, and Kerrea Gilbert in that game. Or let me just say that Silvestre was the Captain on the night! A 1-0 loss doesn’t look so bad then, does it?

I think the two games with the Greeks can be negotiated well and they will certainly not be harder than the ones against Udinese. It’s a long trip though and that can have an adverse impact on the League games. Arsenal host the Greeks on Sept 28. That game is preceded by a visit by Bolton and followed by a trip to White Hart Lane. The long trip is the last game of the group phase on Dec 6 after a visit to Wigan and before a home tie with Everton.

Arsenal have definitely landed the toughest team from the fourth pot in reigning German champions Borussia Dortmund. They have a very young and exciting team with a talented manager so the two games should be spectacular. I have a feeling Marseille and Olympiacos will rue drawing the Germans more than Arsenal.

The Gunners kick-off the group stage with a visit to Germany on Sept 13, just after the home game with Swansea and before the visit to Blackburn. The home game on Nov 23rd is sandwiched between the visit to Norwich and the home derby with Fulham.

I think the draw has been kind to Arsenal in that none of these games have thrown up too many away games or tough ties in a row.

Before ending I want to briefly touch upon the other groups.

Group A is by far the toughest one with Bayern, Villareal, City and Napoli. It will be a good test for Mancini and could have a real impact on their League aspirations as well. The Italian has the squad that can work well despite rotations but in practice it’s not as easy as it looks on paper.

Group B is quite a boring one with Inter, CSKA, Lille, and Trabzonspor. I doubt I will watch any game from that one.

United have a mouth-watering draw in Group C with Benfica, Basle and the deliciously named minnows Otelul Galati.

Real and Lyon meet again, this time in the group phase. D also includes Ajax and Dinamo Zagreb. The Croatian side will be worth watching as they could have a future star or two in their line-up.

Chelsea’s latest acquisition Juan Mata will be reunited with Valencia in Group E. Leverkusen and Genk make it a relatively easy group for Andre Villas-Boas.

Porto, Shakhtar, Zenit, and APOEL make up group G. Any of those teams can qualify for the knockout phase.

In the final group, Barcelona got Milan, BATE Borisov, and Viktoria Plzen who were impressive against Copenhagen in the qualifier. The European giants should come through without much trouble.


15 Responses to Thoughts On The Champions League Draw

  1. kc says:

    Great post! Agree completely with your thoughts on the draw. We got fairly lucky if not for Dortmund in pot 4. Who puts the Bundesliga Champions in the last pot anyway ffs? Thrilled to see City get such a tough group. Baptism by fire for those bastards.

    • Kerink says:

      the seedings for CL is not based on league performance, but its based on the team’s past performance in continental competition. thats why dortmund seeded 4th. man city seeded 3rd, and arsenal seeded 1st despite we did not qualify automatically

  2. Zgunner says:

    Lille vs. Inter will be a beautiful encounter I expect with Lille wanting to prove much on the European scale. It will also nice to see Hazard play in the CL as I honestly still expect him to become an Arsenal future NEXT YEAR but not this one.

  3. Kumle says:

    Grt article mate…………. U make me more clear… just got wt i am expecting

  4. G4L says:

    Will be a test for Dortmund. It should gives us a good idea of our relative strengths. Arsenal have consistently shown they are better than the domestic champions of smaller leagues. Will the same apply to Bundesliga champions as well? If we can show we are better it will prove the ‘no title for 6 years’ rant is rather hollow.

  5. Samuel says:

    A decent enough grouping for Arsenal but the travelling aspect suits us just fine with Marseile in south France being just a leisurely
    2 hours maximium journey ,whether by plane or train,Dortmund in Germany also rather close to London and Olymipakos of Athens
    not that far either,sounds fine to me ?

  6. Alex says:

    Group C mouth-watering? please, I’d rather watch Group B!! Inter v Lille, Lille v CSKA would be interesting encounters.

  7. Phil23 says:

    An exciting match up with Dortmund. It’s a shame that Theo is banned for the hardest match in the group. I’ve heard a lot about Dortmund’s Centre back pairing with many saying they are both world class. Watching Gotze will also be exciting and let us hope that our own prodigy in Wilshere will be available for the match up. Lets hope for beautiful football all the way with us coming out on top of the group!

  8. Yang says:

    Arsenal will through but I agree there is the problem. Team need rotation in group stage but I suppose it will be impossible mainly based on last season performance of back up players was not good enough.

    I don’t think that French and German teams are strong but they will cause enough strain to defeat for sure.

  9. Claver says:

    It’s all very exciting with Arsenal. We get to watch actual football, actual effort, genuine excitement in the UCL. I only wish our Northern refs in the EPL weren’t so mean and callous.

    Perhaps then we’d watch an actual match. But with the frothing and ranting and general psychosis of Red Old Nose of Manure (just call ‘im RON), I suppose the quivering reeds we call refs to quiver…and waiver. Hence, Fletcher u see.

    But what a goal by Walcott eh! He really is lethal. 2 goals against one of the better teams in Italy.

    2 goals in front of Capello. I hope Cappello will be at Old Trafford.

  10. ujang suhara says:

    i think we should buy goetze or their another play maker (from

    japan? eh) before 31 august…. then we can ‘kill’ them with their

    player… hahaha…

    let’s do it mr wenger….

  11. Prabal Rakshit says:

    Desi,
    Nuri Sahin’s absence from Dortmund is certainly a plus point for us, since he was one of the most important forces behind their Bundesliga win last season. However that would be somewhat offset as we do not have Theo when we take them on at Signal Iduna Park (what a stadium it is!!).

    Also Marseille and Lille in CL mean, most likely, curtains drawn on Valbuena or Hazard joining us. I was not hopeful of Hazard joining us, since Lille has already sold us Gervnho. Also I feel both the player and club have a long term desire of having him join Real Madrid (since Zidane was interested in getting him).

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