Reviewing Arsenal’s Opponents in the Champions League Group Stages

                                          Arsenal vs. Bayern… an interesting prospect

With the qualifiers done and dusted, it was time for the UEFA officials to go through the process of the draws and as you’d expect, it was an occasion that was graced by football figureheads and dignitaries from all over the world. In the end, 32 of Europe’s finest were paired into eight groups as shown on the table below.

Final Champions League Draw

Group                                          TEAMS
A Paris St. Germain Real Madrid Shakhtar Donetsk Malmo SK
B PSV Eindhoven Manchester United CSKA Moscow VFL Wolfsburg
C SL Benfica Atletico Madrid Galatasaray SK Astana
D Juventus Manchester City Sevilla Borussia Monchengladbach
E FC Barcelona Bayer 04 Leverkusen AS Roma BATE Borisov
F Bayern Munich Arsenal Olympiakos Piraeus Dynamo Zagreb
G Chelsea FC Porto Dinamo Kiev Maccabi Tel Aviv
H Zenit St. Petersburg Valencia Olympique Lyonnais Gent

Group D has been widely regarded as the ‘Group of Death’ (there’s always a group of death every season but it’s never cliche) and it’s going to be very interesting to see how Manchester City performs in Europe this season. Despite being juggernauts in the Premier League, Manuel Pellegrini’s side are perennial underachievers in this competition and they would be hoping to strive for greatness this season.

Of all the English sides, Chelsea has the easiest run-in but Manchester United has tricky opponents in the forms of VFL Wolfsburg, PSV Eindhoven and CSKA Moscow.

How about the Gunners? For the past five seasons, Arsene Wenger and his squad haven’t gotten the hurdle of the first knockout round, losing twice to Barcelona and Bayern before AS Monaco added to the team’s embarrassment. This season, Arsenal will lock horns against three teams to earn a right to play in the knockout stages yet again.

Here’s a quick review of the Gunner’s opponents.

Dynamo Zagreb (Croatia)

The Croatian outfit has had many great exports to the footballing world in recent times with the likes of Luka Modric, Eduardo da Silva, Alen Halilovic and Mateo Kovacic coming to mind but the current crop of players aren’t household names even though the likes of Angelo Henriquez (bought from Manchester United) and playmaker, Paulo Machado, are worth mentioning. Machado joined the club last season, bringing with him a wealth of experience garnered from his days at FC Porto and Olympiakos.

Dinamo Zagreb are currently leading the MAXtv Prva Liga with 13 points after seven games, with Zoran Mamic’s side winning three games and drawing four. Most of the goals this season have come from Armin Hodzic (six goals already) so the Gunners would have to be mindful about the threat the striker would pose. The young Bosnian actually began his career at Liverpool but he failed to make the grade before he was shipped out to Zagreb.

06/07 Dinamo Zagreb 0-3 Arsenal

Cesc Fabregas scoring Dinamo Zagreb in 2006

Arsenal and Dinamo have met a long while ago in the Group Stages of the 2006/07 Champions League campaign. Goals from Cesc Fabregas (brace) and Robin van Persie gave the Gunners a resounding 3-0 win in the Maksimir Stadium and in the second leg, Freddie Ljungberg and Mathieu Flamini scored the goals that handed the Gunners a 2-1 victory. Dinamo’s only goal of the night was scored by a certain Eduardo da Silva, who would become a Gunner the next summer.

Dinamo Zagreb would be regarded as the whopping boys of the group.

Olympiakos Piraeus (Greece)

Olympiakos won the Greek Super League for the fifth year in a row, edging out fierce rivals, Panathinaikos, with a massive 12 points. They also won the Greek Cup after defeating Skoda Xanthi, making it another ‘double’ campaign. Konstantinou Mitroglou smashed in 19 goals for his team, after a disappointing spell at Fulham.

Despite the fact that Olympiakos had a stellar campaign in his domestic league, the Greek giants had a torrid time in Europe – first of all, missing out of qualification to the knockout round after finishing third behind Atletico Madrid and Juventus but they were afforded a chance to continue their campaign in the Europa League. Olympiakos didn’t even go beyond their first hurdle in the second-tier European competition, losing to eventual finalists, Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk.

Vito Mannone’s legendary blunder against Olympiakos

This season, Olympiakos has began the campaign with a 3-0 win Panionios, as they look to pick up where they left off last season. They are very familiar with playing against Arsenal, as both sides have played six times with the Gunners winning their three games at home and the Greek side beating the Gunners in the Karaiskakis Stadium. This would give the Greeks some measure of confidence knowing that they’ve always beaten Arsene Wenger’s side whenever they visit Athens.

Olympiakos would be sure-fire favorites to make the Europa League slot in the group.

FC Bayern Munich (Germany)

Bayern Munich would be among the favorites to win the big eared trophy they last won in 2013 under Jupp Heynckes but since Pep Guardiola took over, the Bavarians have been very unfortunate, losing in two semifinals against Spanish opponents – Real Madrid two seasons ago and FC Barcelona last season. The Germans won the Bundesliga last season and they had the likes of Arjen Robben and Robert Lewandowski to thank for the goals they contributed to the team’s cause.

This season, Guardiola has added some South American spice to his team with the acquisitions of Douglas Costa and Arturo Vidal. Costa netted on his debut in the 5-0 thrashing of Hamburg while Vidal opened his account for his new club from the spot in a German Cup match against Nottigen.

The Germans are odds-on to top the group but they’d have to go through Arsenal to prove their mettle.

It’s going to be a very tough group and I hope the Gunners play their best over the course of the six games.

Sayonara.

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How Can Arsenal Improve This Season?

On the back of a very superb preseason campaign, the start of the 2015/16 season can be described with one word – disappointing. With each passing West Ham result in the Premier League, the opening day loss to the Hammers looks like a blip but the win over Crystal Palace was no where near convincing. The Gunners opened the scoring with a brilliantly improvised goal from Olivier Giroud but the goal Arsene Wenger’s side conceded was a combination of poor defensive play and puzzling goalkeeping from Petr Cech.

Monday night was vital to both side and it’s fair to say it was a game of two halves. Liverpool put their hosts on the back foot and smashed the woodwork twice with Philippe Coutinho at the heart of everything good for the Reds. Calum Chambers had a shocking first half by his standards but he grew in confidence in the second 45 minutes. Francis Coquelin was made to work for his money and he was very influential before his substitution.

An improved second half performance wasn’t still enough to give the Gunners maximum points and with three League games gone, the Gunners have only four points to show for it. Five points off the pacesetters, Manchester City. Yes, it’s just early days but if Arsene Wenger’s side continues to drop points, they’d be out of the title race before they can even mount a challenge.

How can the side improve as the season progresses?

Better Ball Retention

One of the reasons why FC Barcelona is one of the best teams to watch because of their awesome ability to retain the ball, whether the players are under pressure or not. Their short passing has been a theme of their success because with such patient, incisive and intricate passing play, the opposition finally buckles and defenses are open like hot knife through butter.

Arsenal on the other hand, despite having talented football technicians like Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey, have been culpable for being very sloppy in possession. According to the Breakdown, the Gunners gave the ball away in their half 20, yes, 20 times against Liverpool on Monday night. Those that watched the game can vividly remember that every time the home team lost possession to their opponents, they were on the back foot and they had to thank some last-ditch defending and excellent goalkeeping to keep the scoreline intact.

As the games come thick and fast, the Gunners should try to hold on to the ball better.

F.I.N.I.S.H.I.N.G

Going back to last season, Arsenal has failed to score in five of their last six home games (Chelsea, Swansea, Sunderland, West Ham and most recently, Liverpool. According to the stats boys, Arsenal has had 103 attempts on goal in these five games but they’ve had no goals to show for it.

Giroud fired blanks against Liverpool

Many fans have made another case for the club to sign another center forward, but I wonder if Karim Benzema’s tweet would be the nail in the coffin on any plans to sign him. I feel we were never in for him though. Just some papers trying to get some hits.

Whether the Gunners find a new center forward or not, the players have to really improve in their finishing. When the Gunners were leading Crystal Palace, the Eagles pushed for an equalizer and they left gaping holes at the back. Santi Cazorla and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had glorious chances to put the game beyond doubt but they fired their shots straight at Alex McCarthy. Even Alexis Sanchez had a gaping goal in front of him in that game, and he fired it at a defender on the line. These are three clear cut efforts that weren’t taken.

On Monday night, the chances were hard to come by for the Gunners but there were some chances that were missed yet again, yet Alexis missing the most glorious opportunity on the night. If the Gunners don’t improve on their finishing, we would have more frustration as the campaign progresses.

Sayonara.

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Thoughts on Weekend’s Premier League Action + Liverpool Preview

The way the weekend waltzed past me was so surprising and I didn’t even get to publish any post. In all honesty, not much was happening from an Arsenal perspective with we the Gooners turning into neutrals while watching other teams play.

Tim Krul put up some goalkeeping heroics at Old Trafford and I was happy to know that it’s not only Arsenal that makes some opposition goalkeepers look like Manuel Neuer. For all Wayne Rooney’s chatter about coming back to his best soon, he was shite as they come as he failed to find the back of the net yet again.

Then there was the usual flurry of 3.00pm fixtures and I focused on the Leicester vs Tottenham game. The game didn’t quite live up to the billing but Riyad Mahrez continued his hot streak with another brilliant goal, cancelling Dele Alli’s initial effort that gave Spurs the lead. Crystal Palace continued their good form under Alan Pardew to see off Aston Villa, Norwich and Stoke shared the spoils, Sunderland managed to halt their losing rot with a draw against Swansea and it was goals galore when West Ham lost at home to Bournemouth. For a team that had not scored a goal in their first two Premier League games, scoring four (with Callum Wilson scoring a hat-trick) was no easy feat.

Sunday had its fair share of drama with Chelsea managing to edge out West Brom. The Baggies had a golden opportunity to get an early lead but James Morrison managed to get two goals to his name. Pedro Rodriguez made his mark on the game with a goal and an assist which must have hurt a couple of Manchester United fans watching the game.

There was also an exciting fixture that came afterwards but Manchester City showed their superiority over Everton while Watford and Southampton ended their game in a goalless stalemate.

Tonight, the Gunners take on a Liverpool side that has began the season well with maximum points so far and it’s going to be interesting to see what Arsene Wenger does with his tactical setup. There are no new injuries to be worried about so I’d expect Wenger to feature the same squad that battled out a result against Crystal Palace.

Alexis Sanchez looked out of sorts in Selhurst Park but he still showed great determination to play a role in the winning goal. The team would be hoping that he brings his A-game tonight because it’s going to be an intense battle.

Last season, the Gunners ran out as 4-1 winners and we would be hoping for the same.

Sayonara

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