Thoughts On The Champions League Group Phase And Second Round Possibilities

After a long time, Europe’s premier competition has thrown up a few surprises and plenty of excitement. At the time of the draw few, if any, would have expected United to bow out. Fewer still would have expected the Gunners to qualify from a tough group before the other three English clubs and with a game to spare. City had a tricky set of fixtures so their plight is not that big a surprise, although, given their scale of investment, it sure seems shameful. Looking back, this opening phase does put a lot of things in perspective.

Not that long ago there was all this talk of Arsenal being in a crisis and some even suggested the Gunners will first, struggle to get past Udinese, and then after they qualified, fail to get out of the group. These thoughtless opinions fell flat as most doom and gloom predictions usually do.

The problem with many pundits and the misery brigade is that they jump from observations to conclusions without going through a due analysis phase. I doubt even the staunchest Wenger fans or positive Gooners will ever claim this was a great summer for Arsenal. The squad was stretched at the beginning of the season and the start for far from ideal. Observations along those lines were valid. But people form erroneous opinions because, among other things, they don’t realize just how important Wenger’s experience and football knowledge is.

Last season Lille, Porto, and Borussia Dortmund were flying high. They were collecting accolades, deservedly so, from all and sundry for their domestic title winning exploits, and in the case of the Portuguese side it also included the trophy that will be coveted by the Manchester clubs this year. What I want to know is, how many of those showering compliments at these sides have noticed that all three have been dumped out of the group phase this year? Dortmund and Lille finished bottom of their group while Porto came in third behind APOEL and Zenit!

The point here is not to berate these clubs. Their players, managers, and staff must be trying their best. And there is no shame when it doesn’t work out because sensible people realize being consistent at the highest level is extremely tough. And that is why Arsenal’s consistency has to be acknowledged and appreciated. Winning trophies in Portugal, France, or Germany is commendable. But that does not mean those teams are better than Arsenal. So even though the Gunners haven’t won anything in ‘whatever’ years, they have been doing better than many of the trophy winning squads around Europe. If the recent Arsenal sides had been playing in one of these leagues with lesser competition, they’d have won the titles. It wouldn’t have made them better than what they were but the perceptions of many would have been different. So if you think about it calmly, it would seem the problem is more with the perceptions than with Arsenal FC. That is the reason Arsene calls it “artificial pressure”. Sadly, when fans get so caught up in it, even the players get afflicted.

Don’t get me wrong, the idea is not to say everything is fine and the Gunners don’t have any cause for concern. Those who have followed this blog for a while know I always voice my opinion about problems that I believe are hampering the Arsenal title challenges. Indeed, just yesterday a number of regular readers told me I was becoming too negative!

Criticism per se, is not wrong. But those wishing to voice their concern must demonstrate that they are at least trying to understand the developmental work being done. Unbridled negativity is detrimental. Problems, whatever you might consider as one, should be discussed within the right context. For instance, I would say the first half against Olympiacos was embarrassing. You may agree or disagree but nothing can take away the achievement of the team that provided the cushion for that disappointment. There is no sense in jumping from the observations about that half to predictions about a disastrous season.

One just has to look at Arsenal’s games against Marseille and Dortmund to get an idea about the amount of effort being put in the by the players and the manager. Those were not flukes. And looking at the performances of the other English sides, I can’t believe any of the three would have gone unbeaten in those four games. Throw in the current run in the League and one can see the foundations of a strong side building.

Of course there are areas of improvement. Games against Fulham, City, and Olympiacos have showed just as much. There is an issue with depth, especially given the injury problems that Arsenal invariably have. One can also ask questions about tactics and the defence. Some of you might have other complaints as well, I have just pointed out thoughts at the top of my mind. It’s fair to raise these questions but they should always be discussed while keeping the progressive effort in the background.

As I discussed in this article about Arsenal’s So Near Yet So Far predicament, the positives far outweigh the negatives at Arsenal. They always have. One just has to learn to see the broader picture.

Moving forward, the second phase throws up some interesting possibilities for the Gunners. Napoli, CSKA Moscow, Basel, Lyon, Bayer Leverkusen, Zenit St. Petersburg, and AC Milan are all likely opponents. If all the key players are fit I would be glad to take any of those sides on, but if I had to choose I’d go with Basel or Lyon.

From the quarter-final stage onwards, if Arsenal get through – let’s not be presumptuous, it’s a lot about luck. Barcelona could draw Madrid with Bayern in the same segment of the draw. Who knows how things might turn out. Only one team can win it and a bit of fortune will certainly help. It’s worth noting that I am not claiming Arsenal are as good as the other sides mentioned. A lot more needs to be done before the Gunners can reach the level we have seen from these European giants this season.

Speaking about luck, fitness will be a key factor. Wilshere and Diaby are to come back and hopefully the full-backs will also return one by one. As long as the Gunners don’t lose more than they regain things should be fine. That doesn’t necessarily have to be a one-to-one relationship though. Arsenal could have everyone back but losing Van Persie will still be a massive blow. That’s just the way things are. You cannot get players of that calibre easily.

In fact, the struggles of Chelsea and City (and Liverpool in the League) again prove that buying can never be a quick fix. It’s taken close to a Billion petrodollars and over three years for City to build a team that looks like it can win the Premiership. But they still can’t hack it in the Champions League. Chelsea tried going for youth in the last few years and failed miserably. Now they’re back to buying big but it hasn’t worked out so well thus far. Finding players better than the ones at Arsenal is not an easy task. I know people can throw names of Squillaci, Djourou, Arshavin, and the likes at me right now but these things are just not that straightforward. Anyway, that is a discussion for another time. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t love to see Arsenal getting a world class striker, playmaker, and a versatile defensive player. Just that when it doesn’t happen I will still respect the work being done.

51 Responses to Thoughts On The Champions League Group Phase And Second Round Possibilities

  1. Omar Riaz says:

    True! So true!

    • bambang subentley says:

      hope we buy verthongen for backup song or cb and jordi alba for fullback, goetze and podolski is a bonus..

      • santori says:

        Cback is unlikely. Ditto fullback.

        Midfield seems unlikely too. He will more likely wait for the summer when prices are more competitive.

        Maybe striker/wideman.

    • Tim says:

      Desi, being an Arsenal fan it seems strange that you criticize another team that plays fruitless possession football. Mancini was naive tactically just like Wenger has been on countless occasions. Napoli have 6 top class players out of the starting 11 and the others are at a good level.They may not have spent so much money on them but they are quality.The price of the players does not matter in one-off match or two.Both teams are great. Counter attacking football wins over possession football most of the time at the highest level(unless u have Messi). It is extremely harder to score because there is less space.That’s the football Mancini tries to play and it is going to be his downfall in the big games in the Champions League.

  2. Adeniji abdullahi,NIGERIA says:

    Gud article,sensible,straight forward wit gud use of english which is why i read & recomend ur articles,prayin 4 a bit of luck & a pleasant surprise cud be on d card,G4LIFE

  3. Odhis KenyanGunner says:

    GREAT post Desi! Totally soaking it in and loving it! Am surprised the ‘authorities’ let ManUre be dumped out! I was actually waiting for Rooney to score a dubious penalty or something… anything that could be conjured up to save the late great manchester united!

  4. Odhis KenyanGunner says:

    GREAT post Desi! Totally soaking it in and loving it! Am surprised the ‘authorities’ let ManUre be dumped out! I was actually waiting for Rooney to score a dubious penalty or something… anything… that could be conjured up, cobbled, improvised by the officials, to save the late great manchester united!

  5. ignatzuk says:

    Cheers, Desi, good post.

    By all accounts United were anemic last night, so they clearly deserved to go down. City were pretty unlucky though – failing to qualify on 10 points. It certainly puts Arsenal’s 12 years of back-to-back qualification in a new perspective. I know in the past we have been lucky in a way that City were not this time around, but still… over 12 years you can’t say it’s down to luck.

    Perspective is not an abundant quality in football supporters, I try to remember this and give the armageddonistas the benefit of the doubt. But sometimes it gets too much, especially when influential Arsenal fans brief against Wenger and against Arsenal to the media. We’re all passionate about our club, some of us just make sure that we don’t undermine it.

    • Tee Song says:

      Regarding City’s failure to qualify with ten points, I think you have to mention that Villareal were awful with zero points. I doubt anyone would’ve predicted that. So every team gets six points and it becomes a mini tournament. City got one point in three games against the full strength sides of Bayern and Napoli. That’s simply not good enough.

  6. BloodredGooner says:

    Top article desi. That is a sentiment that would be shared by many Gooner fans with enough sense to realise the c*ap that is served by the name of punditry these days. The guy does have a lot of faults but there really is only one Arsene Wenger.

  7. 1988222010 says:

    am wondering aloud…how can you be a champion when you are knocked out of the champions league this early? arsenal truly deserves the name champion.

  8. addy says:

    Great article. I think this team is, in many ways, much better than the team of last season.
    Defensively, mertesacker is a 10x improvement over squilacci. We are strong at right-back, with jenko adapting fast. Santos is a much better attacker than clichy, and is not as bad defensively as the media makes it out to be. Most importantly, we have a fit vermaelen and an ever-improving koscielny.
    Defensive midfield has coquelin and frimpong in place of denilson.
    Arteta adds solidity, and ramsey is getting better. Rosicky seems to have regained form and wilshere is yet to return. Add benayoun to that mix and midfield has quite a bit of depth as well.
    In attack, i believe gervinho is much more consistent than nasri ever was. Walcott has a rocket up his arse with aoc pushing him. RVP is fit and firing.
    We are still 3 quality players short of being a title winning team though. Djourou’s regressed, gibbs is too injury-prone. We need a backup to rvp and an arshavin replacement. If wenger buys in january, we might see a much better team next season, allowing for smooth integration of talents like aoc, ryo, campbell and bartley.

    • JJ Pittman says:

      Excellent piece! We should pay RvP whatever it takes to keep him. He is the best poacher in the game now. If we lose him to injury, that is beyond our control. Best thing about this team is that it is a TEAM!

    • cupsui says:

      I agree…Normally i don’t like to comment on who should go and who should come in but i will here for once
      the saddest part of all this is JD…why is he so bad? His positioning is poor, he dwells on the ball far too long and coughs it up with a poor pass, and he gets beaten a lot from slow reactions. Sorry JD but i think you time is up.
      Chamakh looks like he has lost his confidence, shooting ability and form and it doesn’t look like changing. I watched him quite at bit at bordeaux and i really liked him and expected big things and he came showing great signs. But i think he needs a change of scene if he is to ever get it back, he is not working in this system (i must say however he actually made a few impressive runs against olympics…although once he got the ball and went for goal everything went wrong).
      Finally arsharvin has got to go, no confidence, no desire and no form, he needs a new club and arsenal needs a new player in his place.

      Winger/AM – Goetze for me should be #1 target and seems he is.He has everything to succeed for the gooners.
      striker – Podolski he can do a job, big stage performer and can play on either wing (a definite bonus)…Dimao would be amazing but i dont think it will happen
      Versatile defender: Obvious choice – Vertonghen.

      I think Goetze (or someone similar…Rues maybe) is the top priority. Then a striker…podolski may actually be 2nd behind goetze as he can cover the wing.
      The defender i think can wait until the summer and i don’t see anything happening on that front.

  9. TT says:

    Good article desi though I don’t think the Udinese games where by any stretch of the imagination plain sailing and we had to work ever so hard to get past a dogged Udinese team.

    It is interesting to see the commentary after both the Manchester clubs went out and it is obvious that the Ferguson and Mancini love-in on the half of the media,had that been Arsenal last night we would have been hung drawn and quartered.

  10. Aussie Jack says:

    Defence could still do with at least one, maybe two ,more players, but I think Wenger will go for a striker if any thing at all in January.
    Mid field is his baby, but along with defence these could go on the back burner until summer, unless a gem presents itself.
    RVP needs a `rotation` partner to last the season and we don`t have one. Also, Wenger will have his contract extension in mind.

  11. Busayo says:

    spot on Desi,u r da man.I just pray gunners can have a relatively injury free players as d season progresses.If dis can be feasible then at least a trophy is likely dis season.As per d champion league 2nd round draw,I vehemently believe that gunners will go past any of those teams.Ride on gunners,will shall get there soonest.Boom!!! Al d way from Nigeria

  12. stonroy says:

    Good analysis. I was one of the people calling for Wenger’s head and while I’m delighted we are doing well I feel my argument still stands. It’s quite simple, his inability to bring in quality in depth. I’m sure we would all agree that if RVP got injured right now (god forbid) we have nobody to replace him. If anything what that Olympiakos game showed us is that if anyone gets injured from our first 11 there is not real quality (maybe beside the OX and coquelin) to stand up and be counted on. This is his failing, I don’t know if he hates to spend money (I don’t believe it’s the board) but it’s unacceptable a club like the Arsenal has Chamakh as a back-up and while I think he is the most brilliant man-manager in the world I think his inability to bring in “proven talent” is ludicrous.

    • JJ Pittman says:

      Forget that we have been without Sagna and Wilshire almost the entire season? They were 2 of our best 5 last year! Huge improvements from Szczesny and Koscielny. Mertesacker’s height matters. Return of Vermaelen immense. Gervinho’s pace doubles the threat from Theo. Most overlooked is solid professionalism
      of Arteta. Ramsey’s return to form outstanding. This is an excellent team, in my opinion, best since the 05-06 Champions League finalists

    • richie says:

      Zero analysis of who is responsible for buying players at the club. Complete lack of knowledge of the clubs self financing season ticket sales wage paying structure . All in all stonroy your post lacks insight about the structures that are in place at Arsenal. Criticise our manager all you want on those things he’s responsible for like team selection, substitutions, player developement etc etc. I certainly do! I can’t for the life of me explain why he needlessly played Vermaelen and Santos in Athenes. But you have no weight behind your critique concerning inability to bring in quality in depth. Of the current top 4/5 prem teams only Money City have real quality in depth Man U’s old guard/ youngsters are in transition. Chelski are rebuilding and then there’s the tiny totts? With the 5th highest debt in the league and no sugar daddy in sight I think your inability to grasp the reality of our clubs finacial situation is whats really ludicrous!

      • BloodredGooner says:

        He did not play Santos ‘needlessly’. The plan was to play Angha but it was realized late that he had not been realized with FIFA. A silly error probably cost the club its only fit first choice full-back…

    • richie says:

      BRG I’ve since seen the report concerning the supposed mix up re- Martin Angha not being in England for a full 2 years as required by Fifa before he can be included in a CL team. If the report is correct then why was Santos still playing in the 53rd minute? If the plan was to give Angha & Miguel 45mins each and Santos had to take Angha’s place then surely Miguel who came on once Santos was injured should’ve already been on 2nd half.

  13. Nikhil says:

    Totally agree with how pundits just pounce onto conclusions. Recently AVB was quoted saying how the media harassed Chelsea for their recent form. And I was thinkin AVB just got a week or two of that pressure. Arsenal have been getting it for years!!
    So kudos to Arsenal FC for their performance under pressure and ever under the wicked spotlight!
    On the squad, I hope Mr. Wenger buys players, just so that the squad isn’t stretched, worse than it is now. (read fullback area)
    Good read this post. As always 🙂 keep it up Desi Gunner!

  14. Fuad Hassan says:

    Your blog is the only one I read. I don’t know if that’s a compliment… So let me do so now: You are a brilliant writer and I’m fortunate to have stumbled upon this. Keep up the good work.

  15. lengi08 says:

    Great posting, I love how you give the positives but also acknowledge the not so good things at the club, thus not decieving us into thinking everything is all rosy at Arsenal fc. I am disappointed in Man U for failing to qualify, it was there own doing. I am so glad Man City didnt make ha ha,there you Nasri enjoy Euopa football.

  16. Francis says:

    Great article desi,true that we dont have a back up to RVP bt that does nt mean we dont have dept,take a look at a club lyk man united that evry one says they have dept,a few injuries and they are out of the champions utd cannot afford to have the kind of injuries we’ve had this season and be second on the epl table.and take barcelona no matter how large their squad is,if lionel messi gets injured it is bye bye to trophies this season.evry team has its best player it is just unfortunate or wuld i say fortunate that our best player has been performin this year without injuries,rvp wil lead us to our first title in 6yrs,and i can bet it is the ucl.

    • cupsui says:

      Barca has some serious depth…more than Man $hity.
      A big loss to lose Messi but they’d cope and still be very very strong, sanchez, pedro, iniesta or even cesc could step into his place…not bad replacements…dam barca…

  17. OBA says:

    Desi is the man.

  18. Mike kanvi says:

    I hav dis feeling we wud playing our 2ndround match in italy! Naples anybody?

  19. Mike kanvi says:

    Also we need a re-energized,re-vitalized,re-packaged arshavin,even if it’s a newone.
    come on gunners lets make d emirates a place teams dread 2come2.

  20. Sandeep says:

    I very rarely comment on blogs, but felt compelled to on this one. Wonderful wonderful post desi. Really eloquant and well worded.

  21. Rejoice says:

    Vintage Desi. The no. 1 blog. While we were written off earlier in the season, I never doubted what we could do,cause a bad beginning sometimes has a good ending.

    With all our short comings, I do still feel that Arsenal could win something come may. Lets just hope that we address our lapses.

    Given what I have seen of man u lately, I was not surprised they’re out. I would have been surprised if Napoli didn’t make given the state of Villareal.

    The ‘perfect’ teams may not win the CL, maybe the fortunate team and I just hope that we would be fortunate and lucky. .

    Desi, keep writing like this-it keeps increasing your worth to me and all true gunners.

  22. nicky says:

    Now we have reached the ko stage of the CL, it is imperative that those on our sick list return in the near future. The medics will advise Arsene Wenger accordingly and it will then be necessary for him to decide what action to take in the January Transfer Window.
    After our horrendous start to the season, our recovery has been phoenix-like and it would be a pity now to throw that away for the sake of misplaced
    decisions on our immediate future.

  23. Raju says:

    With the amount of artificial pressure heaped on Arsenal from the Media, Arsene Wenger’s achievements is so great compared to how much backing the Media gives to Man United, Chelsea and recently Man City. The Media heaps so much pressure on Arsenal, but they readily find excuses for Man United, Chelsea and Man City’s failures

  24. Timmy says:

    Arsenal is not an ordinary club that does things in special way, Arsenal is an outright extra-ordinary club that does things in an extra-ordinarily specialized unique way. A self sustaining model only matched by Bayern munichen.

    Wish fans can fully understand the full ramification of this.

  25. olaomi says:

    Fantastic article,very simple and sensible.Hardly u find some other club fans take up all mentioned facts about arsenal to be real ones because they are very low in reasoning that is why.I think we are doing well despite all starting odds and we need to work on defence backup and two more striker because depending heavily on RVP may be dangrous though gevineo is improving but is not as vasatile, diligent as RVP.We should not entertain any fair on CL,we can be anybody and if we does is not going to be news bcos is not new.

  26. footynions says:

    I think everyone has an equal chance at this stage as teams that were not expected to qualify did. Not saying they suck or what not, but the quality of teams in comparison to that of RM or Barca or Milan is noticeable.

    Its just a matter of luck and who actually shows up to play on game day at this point.

    Great piece.

  27. richie says:

    DG, Great wright up with great analysis thats what makes your blog so worth reading! With Chris and the guys at TGH possibly bowing out its yet another reason why proper Arsenal/Gooner blogs are so important. IMHO we have far too many Gooner Blogs of the insult trading variety and there is far too much disscussion before any proper analysis takes place. One lousy pundit or one lazy journo says “one man band” and the next moment the blogs are alive with one man band syndrome. Worse much of it comes from our own supporters who often fail to see the wood for the tree’s. Like you I could find plenty to criticise, but the positive’s excede the negatives two to one. Long may that continue and long may our current run continue and long may your insightful analytical articles continue to flow.

  28. Ahmed Awan says:

    desi a great post as usual.
    i am a huge fan of yours and i love that there is a blogger from sub continent who is so passionate about my love “Arsenal”.
    i also want to write about my love as i believe that me along with my one friend here know a quiet a lot about the tactics,finances and upcoming potential.
    can we write for you.
    if so please do tell me

  29. Very well written last paragraph desi! Totally what I have in mind 😀

  30. critic says:

    Starting with santos and vermaelean against olympiakos really pissed me off.

  31. critic says:

    time to change the picture of ur blog?

  32. cupsui says:

    Well Desi…seems you’ve been deservedly lavished in praise.

    Something stuck with me from your last match report and was consolidated by this article. I used to frequent another blog that always has the feature article on and it is a great site and the blogs used to be good but the author totally lost his way and got swept up by the AAA doom and gloomers and could not take any criticism, he simply started screening comments that didn’t agree with his opinions. Now you obivously had a few people saying the olympiacos game wrap was too negative and I too felt it was a bit cynical given the circumstances. yes the 1st half was a bit embarrassing (mainly due to vito’s calamitous error). But it was mostly kids against a greek side with everything to play for in a hostile environment.

    Now my point…the way you handled this criticism was absolutely outstanding and highly commendable, you addressed concerns by not attacking the readers but by listening, conceding and yet still voicing your opinions. There is simply not enough of this in today’s society as everyone thinks they are right 100% of the time.

    This is why i only come here for post match and pre match blogs now. So thanks for keeping a great blog, highly thoughtful and tactical analysis that does not get swallowed up in the tidal wave of anti arsenal tabloid and blog nonsense. I look forward to hearing you opinions as always!! WELL DONE DESI!!

  33. santori says:

    Well said. here here.:D

  34. Champions League…

    […]Thoughts On The Champions League Group Phase And Second Round Possibilities « Desi Gunner[…]…

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