Arsenal have the welcome distraction of the Champions League coming up after back to back defeats against Liverpool and Manchester United in the league. A flurry on the last day of the transfer window saw Andre Santos, Per Mertesacker, Yossi Benayoun and Mikel Arteta join the Gunners, and the quartet will hope to boost the side’s chances of progression. Marseille, Olympiakos and Borussia Dortmund comprise a tricky group for Arsene Wenger’s men, with a strong European campaign the perfect tonic to a slow domestic start.
German champions Dortmund are first up for the Emirates club, with Jurgen Klopp’s team travelling to London on September 13th. The side from from Signal Iduna Park blitzed the Bundesliga in 2010-11, winning their first top flight campaign in ten years at a canter. Borussia have a young side, with the majority of the first team under 25 years of age, which could be dangerous due to their exuberance, but a lack of experience may give the Gunners the edge.
Die Borussen lost key playmaker Nuri Sahin to Real Madrid over the summer, but 19-year-old sensation Mario Goetze has risen to fill the shoes of the departing Turk, with fantastic performances for club and country. The Germans have two excellent centre halves in the form of Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic, and the guile and attacking threat of Shinji Kagawa and Lucas Barrios will be a real threat to Wenger’s vulnerable backline.
Olympiakos topped the Greek Super League last term to win their 38th top flight title and will pose a difficult challenge for the English side. Spanish manager Ernesto Valverde has brought in a number of player’s from La Liga, including attacking midfielder Ariel Ibagaza and ex-Liverpool winger Albert Riera, and the eastern European outfit will look to attack Arsenal, especially at the Karaiskakis Stadium.
Marseille relinquished their Ligue 1 title in 2010-11, finishing second to Lille in the French top flight, but Didier Deschamps’ outfit are a well-tuned and strong side. The Stade Velodrome team have built on an already excellent squad this summer, with the addition of France international midfielder Alou Diarra and talented Morgan Amalfitano making Les Phoceens a tough opponent.
The French team have made their home ground a tricky place to visit, and beat Chelsea in the competition last term, disappointing the Stamford Bridge fans as they returned from their trip abroad empty handed. Despite this, Marseille have started slowly in Ligue 1 in 2011-12, picking up only three points from their first four games and, like Arsenal, will look to make amends for a slow season start with a strong European campaign.
Making it through the group is the minimum that Arsenal fans should demand and expect, but it will not be an easy accomplishment for Wenger’s men. Additional new faces are needed at the Emirates to ensure that the squad can be competitive on two fronts, and the home games are must wins. The good work in the win over Udinese in the qualifiers must not be thrown away, as Arsenal look to put their doubters behind them with a productive Champions League campaign.
Gareth McKnight writes for Soccerlens.com.