Reviewing Arsenal’s Opponents in the Champions League Group Stages
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
|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.
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.
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.
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