Thoughts on Arsenal’s Opponents in the Champions League Group Stages
After the hard work was done in the qualifiers with Arsenal edging past Besiktas on a nervy Emirates night, it was time for the UEFA Champions League draws and as expected, there were a couple of oooohs and aaaahs with each passing draw. However, Arsenal was the first seeded team in Group D and they have been paired alongside Borussia Dortmund (yet again), Galatasaray and Anderlecht.
Without further ado, Gooner Daily reviews each of Arsenal’s opponents, ranging from their performances in the previous campaign, the current campaign, players to watch out for as well as the final predictions for the group.
As expected, Anderlecht won the Belgian Pro League last season (taking their tally to 33 titles) with Massimo Bruno and Aleksandr Mitrovic spearheading their attack. They had started the campaign with a Belgian Super Cup victory over Genk (Bruno scored the only goal) but as the season progressed, the Anderlecht fans suffered heartache in the Belgian Cup as the team lost on penalties to Westerlo in the seventh round of the competition.
The Belgian side also suffered a dismal Champions League campaign last season as they were paired in the same group with Paris St. Germain, Olympiakos and SL Benfica. They lost their first three games without even scoring to guarantee their elimination and to make things worse, they conceded five goals at home to PSG with Zlatan Ibrahimovic scoring four. Anderlecht managed to get a 1-1 draw in Paris and that turned out to be their only point of the competition as they lost their remaining two games to stay rock bottom at the group.
At the end of the campaign, Bruno smashed in 16 goals while Mitrovic followed him closely with 15 goals.
This season, Anderlecht fans were saddened to see their top scorer (Bruno) leave for Red Bull Salzburg but they began the campaign with a Belgian Super Cup win over Lokeren with Mitrovic picking up where he left off in the previous campaign. In five Belgian Pro League games played this season, Anderlecht is in pole position with Mitrovic leading the club’s scoring charts.
He may just be 19 years of age but Arsenal would ignore Mitrovic at their own peril. After plying his trade in the Serbian League, Mitrovic switched to Anderlecht last season and he scored 16 goals in 39 appearances averaging roughly a goal every two games. He’d be a player to watch out for in the group.
The Turkish giants challenged on all fronts last season and they reaped their rewards with a Turkish Cup victory at the end of the season. There were managerial switches as well with Turkish legend, Fatih Terim, and Italian hot head, Roberto Mancini, getting some time in the dugout. Galatasaray began last season with a couple of preseason encounters, which included participation in the 2013 Emirates Cup. After winning FC Porto in their opening encounter, the Turkish side won the trophy through the help of their talismanic striker and Arsenal’s Kryptonite, Didier Drogba.
Their Emirates Cup success was followed by a Turkish Super Cup victory over Fenerbahce with Drogba scoring a late goal in extra time which turned out to be the deciding factor between both teams. Galatasaray also featured in one of the hardest Champions League groups last season as they were paired with Real Madrid, Juventus and FC Copenhagen. Their match opener against Real was a horror show as Cristiano Ronaldo bagged himself a hat-trick. They went on to draw with Juventus in Turin which proved to be a pivotal moment in the group because a victory over the same opponents in a snow-laden pitch (second leg) was enough to book the Turkish side a Round of 16 berth.
In the Round of 16 clash against Chelsea, talk of Drogba’s return to a place he once called home dominated the back pages but the Ivorian’s performances over the course of both legs was very shambolic. Maybe he was overwhelmed by the sense of occasion and the way the fans sang his tunes. In the Turkish league, Fenerbahce sealed off the threat of their rivals to win the title with Galatasaray finishing in second place but with the club facing a ban from UEFA, Galatasaray took their slot.
This season, Drogba returned to Chelsea leaving the goalscoring burden for that season’s top goalscorer, Burak Yilmaz. With a new coach in the form of Cesare Prandelli, the Turks lost their Super Cup tie to Fenerbahce on penalties with Selcuk Inan, Felipe Melo and Yekta Koutulus missing their vital spot kicks.
With Drogba gone, the Galatasaray’s goalscoring burdens rests on the capable hands of Burak Yilmaz that is coming off a campaign where he smashed 18 goals for the team. The goal haul is nowhere near the 32 goals he scored in his debut season with the club but Yilmaz is a player I really admire because of his keen eye for goal and predatory instincts. Let’s hope that the Gunners would do their but to keep him in check.
Since Bayern Munich’s return to dominance, Dortmund has played the role of second fiddle as they lost out in the Bundesliga and DFB Pokal Cup to the Bavarians last season. However, Dortmund began the campaign well as they instilled the first defeat to Pep Guardiola in the German Super Cup but Bayern showed their superiority in the league leading Dortmund with a whooping 19 points as well as scoring the goals that broke their hearts in the German Cup final. To rub salt to Dortmund’s injuries, Bayern snapped their top scorer, Robert Lewandowski, on a Bosman, which didn’t go down well with the Signal Iduna Park faithful.
Dortmund also locked horns with Arsenal in the group stages last season with the Germans winning at the Emirates and the Gunner returned the favor at the Signal Iduna Park.
However, with the Gunners losing to Napoli and Dortmund beating Olympique Marseille, it went down to the wire with the Italians crashing out of the competition despite having 12 points. Dortmund eased past Zenit in the Round of 16 but they couldn’t replicate their 2012/13 heriocs against Real Madrid and they were outsed from the competition.
This season, Dortmund began the new campaign like the previous one, beating Bayern Munich in the German Super Cup but the game will be fondly remembered for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s Spiderman celebration, a style he also used from his St. Etienne days.
Aubameyang has already netted three goals and Dortmund would seek to exploit his raw reserves of pace in their bid for silverware this season. Arsenal’s defense has to be mindful about him.
I’m no Paul the Octopus or soothsayer but judging from the qualities of the teams in this group, Arsenal and Dortmund will have enough in the tank to see them through but they’d have to be careful about the threat Galatasaray will pose. With no disrespect to Andrelecht, but the Belgian side is here to ‘complete the numbers’.
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