Posts Tagged Arsene Wenger

Arsenal: Deluded in Wealth


Couple of weeks ago – can’t exactly remember with whom – we were talking about who would make a suitable replacement for Arsène Wenger in the event ‘it’ happens and names such as Martin O’Neil (for his commendable management of clubs running on tight budgets), Guus Hiddink (for obvious reasons) and Frank Rijkaard (as I felt his philosophy fits well to Arsenal’s) came up.

Yes Wenger’s shot the club’s stature to rocket heights since he arrived (the club is worth some $1.2b at the moment and has reached the lucrative Champions League group stage 14 successive years) but for whatever reason(s), this same man and club has settled for a policy that sees a teenager with no experience whatsoever at the top level (club and country) arrive for £15m when the likes of Steven Defour and Arturo Vidal cost their new clubs around the same amount.

So who’s deceiving who when same Arsenal that deems it most appropriate to spend a sum on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain finds it difficult to do so in the very much needed instances of Gary Cahill, Christopher Samba and so on? I’ll just put it this way about Wenger… at another club, he would be out of a job and Jose Mourinho will gladly emphasise this point anytime, anywhere.

Take a Ibrahim Afellay for instance, what’s stopping Arsenal from getting he who cost Barcelona a mere €3m just over a year ago? He has had limited playing time ever since and really has no concrete future at the Nou Camp where that alien Lionel Messi is untouchable, Pedro stays consistent, Cesc Fàbregas and Alexis Sanchez have just arrived and a talented indigenous midfielder Thiago Alcantara is just itching for a starting spot? All that without mentioning Xavi, Andres Iniesta and probably Seydou Keita.

Alas, Arsenal can actually get the necessary, albeit more expensive yet much needed experienced players to solve this whole mess without fuss what with about £90m available in the transfer kitty (excluding whatever could be added from the prize money of reaching the Champions League group stage). So why players such as Eden Hazard, Karim Benzema, Cahill, Samba, Ricardo Montolivo (all linked to the club now and then) and others of such calibre are not Arsenal players yet miffs me.

If the club insists on being self righteous in an arena that has (sadly so I admit) long dropped the notion of basing the transfer value of a player on his experience, achievements and reputation (Andy Caroll’s a good player but he’s worth more than way too many strikers much better than him including teammate Luis Suarez), then nothing less than the six years going on seven without a trophy should be expected.

As for the dissipation we got at Old Trafford, worst I’ve ever felt being a Gooner since the 6-1 loss against same club in 2001 and I cannot feel sorry enough for Gooners who paid to watch the match live. To their credit, they sang on rather than boo the players at the end.

Never could I also ever imagine I’d witness an Arsenal side field some six players that cannot boast having ten appearances with the first team making the squad for a Premier League match against Manchester United. Really? You would do that against your arch-rivals?? Just quantifies mediocre the state of the club.

Problems at the club are bare to see, solutions to them even more so and the sooner the better because I’m in no mood to go two decades without a league title or any other major title at that.

This article birth as a mere comment at http://t.co/yV01ZLp but guess I had quite a bit to say hence the above. Sincerely yours, since late ’97 till the Mayan Calendar comes to pass or whenever after, I stay a proud Gooner!h whom – we were talking about who would make a suitable replacement for Arsène Wenger in the event ‘it’ happens and names such as Martin O’Neil (for his commendable management of clubs running on tight budgets), Guus Hiddink (for obvious reasons) and Frank Rijkaard (as I felt his philosophy fits well to Arsenal’s) came up.

Yes Wenger’s shot the club’s stature to rocket heights since he arrived (the club is worth some $1.2b at the moment and has reached the lucrative Champions League group stage 14 successive years) but for whatever reason(s), this same man and club has settled for a policy that sees a teenager with no experience whatsoever at the top level (club and country) arrive for £15m when the likes of Steven Defour and Arturo Vidal cost their new clubs around the same amount.

So who’s deceiving who when same Arsenal that deems it most appropriate to spend a sum on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain finds it difficult to do so in the very much needed instances of Gary Cahill, Christopher Samba and so on? I’ll just put it this way about Wenger… at another club, he would be out of a job and Jose Mourinho will gladly emphasise this point anytime, anywhere.

Take a Ibrahim Afellay for instance, what’s stopping Arsenal from getting he who cost Barcelona a mere €3m just over a year ago? He has had limited playing time ever since and really has no concrete future at the Nou Camp where that alien Lionel Messi is untouchable, Pedro stays consistent, Cesc Fàbregas and Alexis Sanchez have just arrived and a talented indigenous midfielder Thiago Alcantara is just itching for a starting spot? All that without mentioning Xavi, Andres Iniesta and probably Seydou Keita.

Alas, Arsenal can actually get the necessary, albeit more expensive yet much needed experienced players to solve this whole mess without fuss what with about £90m available in the transfer kitty (excluding whatever could be added from the prize money of reaching the Champions League group stage). So why players such as Eden Hazard, Karim Benzema, Cahill, Samba, Ricardo Montolivo (all linked to the club now and then) and others of such calibre are not Arsenal players yet miffs me.

If the club insists on being self righteous in an arena that has (sadly so I admit) long dropped the notion of basing the transfer value of a player on his experience, achievements and reputation (Andy Caroll’s a good player but he’s worth more than way too many strikers much better than him including teammate Luis Suarez), then nothing less than the six years going on seven without a trophy should be expected.

As for the dissipation we got at Old Trafford, worst I’ve ever felt being a Gooner since the 6-1 loss against same club in 2001 and I cannot feel sorry enough for Gooners who paid to watch the match live. To their credit, they sang on rather than boo the players at the end.

Never could I also ever imagine I’d witness an Arsenal side field some six players that cannot boast having ten appearances with the first team making the squad for a Premier League match against Manchester United. Really? You would do that against your arch-rivals?? Just quantifies mediocre the state of the club.

Problems at the club are bare to see, solutions to them even more so and the sooner the better because I’m in no mood to go two decades without a league title or any other major title at that.

This article birth as a mere comment at http://t.co/yV01ZLp but guess I had quite a bit to say hence the above. Sincerely yours, since late ’97 till the Mayan Calendar comes to pass or whenever after, I stay a proud Gooner!

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The Perilous Plain Arsenal Treads: The Fount or Wilderness


… at this point, the other part of the picture comes to display. Arsenal’s whole play is centred on Fàbregas and should he so happen to leave the Emirates, it would require Arsène Wenger either overhauling his (increasingly annoying yet sometimes laudable tip-tap) match-day game plan or placing 20 year old Jack Wilshere in Fàbregas’s position as the nucleus of this tactic of his.

Wilshere has blossomed immensely in the past year and the bonus of it is he is English but that’s an aside. His progress last season is just the start of a process that could see him become the Xavi of the Arsenal squad. However, placing the load of the Arsenal game on him can potentially stunt his potential as if he is to become the Xavi, none of Andrei Arshavin thanks to his lackadaisical approach to the game most times, Samir Nasri who actually remains unproven and Tomas Rosicky that has seen what should have been his best years thwarted by injuries can be trusted to be Wilshere’s Iniesta.

The above picture hopefully captures just how much of a massive disappointment Denilson has been, and why Abou Diaby and Alex Song either need to gain more consistency and composure in their respective games or become redundant.

Yes a club is not about one player and in reality, Arsenal have four now in my opinion – Fàbregas, Robin van Persie, Wilshere and Thomas Vermaelen – and in losing Cesc, only Wilshere seems guaranteed from being prone to long term injuries unlike van Persie while Vermaelen has also shown he isn’t immune to being a Persie on the injury front.

Fàbregas’s exit, with all the aforementioned, would inevitably lead to a seventh season without a trophy, a trepidation that would leave the already disgruntled atmosphere at the Emirates further sunk in disillusion. Also, Wenger’s philosophy is unfortunately not the kind just some random calibre of new signings can fluidly adapt to.

There are players of top quality that could adapt on time to the Arsenal game we can buy? Will Wenger go out of his way to get any of Joao Moutinho, Miguel Veloso, Gonzalo Higuain, Giuseppe Rossi, René Adler, Juan Mata, Luka Modric, Diego, Eden Hazard or Leighton Baines among others? No! He has a transfer policy and a wage system to abide by.

Hence, I feel now is not the time to let go of Fàbregas. Wenger will just need to keep building another invincibles and I’ll admit, he is probably just two or three appropriate players away from achieving it.

P.S: Aaron Ramsey looked to be on the ascendency when he got that horror injury at Stoke City season before last and now that he is back, I’ll be watching him in the hope he impacts on the team as Wilshere did last season.

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The Perilous Plain Arsenal Treads: Fàbregas, Season 4


The protracted tussle between nascent Premier League underachievers Arsenal and world conquering Barcelona to have midfielder Francesc Fàbregas in their respective teams is currently seeing its fourth season play out; complete with the usual rumoured agreements behind the scenes and blown out of proportion comments among other plots in a number of episodes in this saga.

This season’s tussle actually set off in the run up to the last UEFA Champions League final with Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique posing with a picture of Fàbregas taken down from a wall at the Arsenal training ground; an opportunity that came about with the Gunners granting the Catalan side access to its training facilities ahead of the win at Wembley over Manchester United.

This same duo, along with Liverpool keeper Jose Reina, also succeeded in forcing a Barça jersey on Fàbregas after the Spanish national team lifted the 2010 World Cup at South Africa; a campaign that saw Fàbregas contribute to the success even in his bit part role.

Back then (Fàbregas: Season Three if you may), Arsenal was going to have none of it as regards negotiating any fee for his transfer to the Nou Camp. Currently, the stance has changed with the Gunners willing to negotiate having set their asking price at a staggering £60m.

Importantly and fortunately for Barça and otherwise for Arsenal, what has not changed is the silverware cabinet at the Emirates Stadium, which bolsters Barça’s approach for Arsenal’s talismatic midfielder coupled with the fact that the Nou Camp (with all bitterness in admitting so) is Fàbregas’ home.

Arsenal’s move; however perilous it is, to appear as lending a listening ear to Barça’s approach for the player may well be what will keep Fàbregas at North London since it puts the Gunners in the light of not forcing Cesc to stay at the club (the perilous part of it), which then puts Barça in the light of being desperate for a player it in reality has no need of with the likes of Seydou Keita and Ibrahim Afellay behind the spotlight of Xavi and Andres Iniesta just as Thiago Alcantra is staking his claim to more appearances in the Barça first team especially on the back of his sterling performances at the recently concluded European U-21 Championships that Spain won.

Hence, by holding out for a fee that is obviously well out of Barça’s valuation of the player as well as what the club can afford, Arsenal has somewhat put itself in a win-win situation and put the courting Spaniards in a win-at-a-great-cost position.

Again, Arsenal’s position here is precarious due to Arsène Wenger’s transfer policy of not spending more than a footballer’s valuation in his economic view. So should Fàbregas join Barça because the Catalan giants actually meet Arsenal’s valuation or Arsenal accept Barça’s reported next offer of £35m, Wenger’s policy would mean the already disgruntled and disillusioned Arsenal fans would have to endure a seventh, eighth and perhaps ninth season without a trophy.

The second part of this piece will elucidate why I say this…

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Special Word for…


Blackpool/ Ian Holloway
Ian Holloway must be a man with an inhumanly high self-esteem and if he added a bit of ambition to this spirit, I sense Blackpool could become a much better team than its potential currently shows and I hope they avoid relegation. The Tangerines meanwhile will make for a purist’s favourite as they play football for the gallery, even if it backfired hard in a good number of matches. #Jolly

Sir Alex Ferguson

Sir Alex Ferguson

Sir Alex Ferguson has made Manchester United England's most illustrious club

Love him, hate him, two things are sure with this wily old Scotsman, frequent success and a loyal customer to the chewing gum industry. Despite the familiarity in the Old Trafford atmosphere having been at the Manchester United helm since 1986, Sir Alex will do what needs to be done in order to keep the trophies coming and that’s how the Red Devils eclipsed arch-rivals Liverpool to become the team with the most league titles (19); like we did not recognise him as a legend already though. Writing of doing what needs to be done, there’s a third thing you can be sure of with SAF… the hairdryer treatment; testimonies abound! #Wine

Arsenal FC
The Gunners did all in its power to extend an unenviable run of years without a trophy… and succeeded *ticks seventh year*. Arsenal only has itself to blame for winning nothing this season and unless Arsène Wenger stops being emotional about the matter, a lot of the great talents at the club will never attain greatness at the club. #Drought

Jose Mourinho

Jose Mourinho

Jose Mourinho in one of his on-field state

The Portuguese tactician once again proved his prowess from the bench by winning the Copa Del Rey against Barcelona and breaking Real Madrid’s six season jinx of not going past the Champions League first knock-out round; going as far as the last four. It never was going to be easygoing at the Bernabeu and I sense two more seasons there would see Mourinho mould himself into a tactical legend. All that said, the Portuguese of course wasn’t going to let the season go by without a dose of touchline bans as well as “all eyes on me” and “me against the world” rants; encapsulated in the four El-Clasico encounters at close season #Journeyman

AC Milan/Massimmiliano Allegri
The Rossoneri may have been embarrassed out of the Champions League in the first knock-out round by debutantes Tottenham Hotspur but they handled affairs back home and ensured FC Internazionale’s run of four consecutive ‘Scudettos’ came to an end, thus earning some respect for the coach Allegri as well as a season’s worth of local bragging rights while at it. #Resurgence

Falcao

Falcao

Falcao has been in raging form for FC Porto this season

His 16 goals in the Europa League so far; a record already for most goals in a single season in either European Cups (Opta Sports), certainly served FC Porto well in the Portuguese side’s run to the final and in my opinion brings the 25 year old Columbian out of the shadows of the imposing Hulk; his Brazilian strike partner at the club. #Potent

BV Borussia Dortmund
The high competitiveness levels attained by the Bundesliga makes Dortmund’s league triumph very laudable. More so making use of a young, skilful team in dethroning perennial title favourites Bayern Munich, Dortmund now must prove to the rest of Europe; though without Real Madrid-bound Nuri Sahin, that not only the Bavarians can perform well on the big stage but for now, it’s always good to see a team other than the usual win. #Refreshing

Mario Gomez

Mario Gomez

Mario Gomez

How many hat tricks was that again? Five hat-tricks in one season; this season, is just lethal stuff! Too bad this form still was not enough to get Bayern Munich the German league title though 27 goals in 30 league matches should serve a good enough personal consolation for the striker. #Vain

Pepe
Perhaps Real Madrid’s best performer this season through his assured play in defence and later on in midfield, his importance to the team became most glaring following an underserved red card in the UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg against arch-rivals Barcelona… the Catalans went on to score two goals afterwards and virtually seal its place in Wembley that night. #Gibraltar

Iker Casillas
Called upon on too many occasions to rescue Real Madrid, Casillas proved his class as a reliable goalkeeper time and again. #Reliance

Sergio Ramos
Thanks for making Arsenal the butt of yet more disheartening jokes after letting slip of the Copa Del Rey trophy from the parade atop the Real Madrid winning train… we know the rest. #Slipshod

André Villas-Boas

Not to say he is him but this is a bit how Jose Mourinho started… I’ll keep my eye on his teams and currently that’s FC Porto that he has guided to the league title and Europa League final in lethal, record breaking fashion; being the third youngest manager to win the Super Liga at 33 years, guiding FC Porto to amassing a massive 80 out of a possible 90 points in the league complemented by a run of 16 league matches won… all without any previous managerial experience? #HotShot

Queens Park Rangers
This very financially stable club has gained promotion to the most viable financial league in the world and I’m looking forward to QPR matches next season especially the London derbies. #Royal

©d.òÁ

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An Imploding Cannon


I feel Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger has become too engrossed in bringing out the best or making the most out of the talent(s) of the players at his disposal; most of whom he still regards as ‘youngsters’, as well as looking out for their interests first rather than the team’s that he now finds it quite difficult to win a trophy. The Frenchman; unfortunately for Arsenal, has allowed his emotions toward the Cannon badge side cloud his much better judgment.

For me, the 2010/11 season ranks as the highest level of impotence the Gunners have shown since its unenviable trophy-drought run began after that pyrrhic victory on penalties at the 2005 FA Cup final. Moreover, the north London side has only itself to blame for not winning at least one trophy this season having lost the League Cup final to rank outsiders Birmingham City; no thanks to a lack of communication between a French defender and his Polish goalkeeper, and then allowed a few results to be such as:

Arsenal 0-1 Newcastle United >>> the Toons won with perhaps one of two forays towards the Arsenal goal that day, blessed with a bit of eccentricity on the part of Lukasz Fabianski. Some misfortune for Arsenal at the Newcastle goal meant a sure three points failed to materialize for the Gunners at a time Newcastle was in poor form.

Arsenal 2-3 Westbromwich-Albion >>> With the Gunners in good form, the Baggies were no match for their hosts on paper and Arsenal duly obliged by resting a number of the regular starters. The visitors on their part duly took advantage by racing to a deserved 3-0 lead earned through some breathtaking football by them and it wasn’t till Jack Wilshere and Samir Nasri were introduced that the score was made a bit less embarrassing. My failing ego as a Gooner fell a few notches that day though.

Arsenal 2-3 Tottenham Hotspur >>> It is like a stone forced down the throat losing to one’s fiercest rivals, worse still when the match is lost on home turf with a capacity crowd watching on and gravely worse so when such match is lost having ended the first half leading 2-0. The Lilywhites, much credit to them, picked up and took their game to a level the Gunners; by then too cozy to keep the rampaging second half Spurs at bay, couldn’t cope with thus seeing Spurs record a famous win at the Emirates. Another low blow to my Gooner ego.

Newcastle United 4-4 Arsenal >>> Took me five minutes to start typing this part… absolutely indescribably ludicrous result for Arsenal that couldn’t have asked for a better first half display that resulted into a 4-0 lead by half time. A lack of team discipline generally and individual discipline from Abou Diaby meant what shouldn’t have been… became. Thus allowing Newcastle United to prize four points from Arsenal this season. Champion material… not!

Arsenal 1-1 Liverpool >>> Unfortunate injury to Jamie Carragher in a clash of heads with teammate Flanaghan meant eight minutes of added time was given at the Emirates with the game still goalless at 90 minutes. Dutchman Robin van Persie; whose impeccable form in 2011 came to nothing unfortunately, scored a 98th minute penalty and seemed to have earned three points that would have boosted Arsenal’s shot at overturning Manchester United’s lead in the title race. Alas, Arsenal conceded a penalty converted by another Dutchman Dirk Kuyt in the 102nd minute. Both teams did not deserve to lose in all fairness with Arsenal producing another attacking master class on the day and Liverpool doing likewise with their defensive display but when you take the lead after 98 minutes in a game of 90 minutes, you don’t just lose!

Tottenham Hotspur 3-3 Arsenal >>> Even though the two-goal lead began dissipating after just three minutes, it remains on record that Arsenal led 3-1 at some point at White Hart Lane and oh the joy Gooners were feeling right then. It was no doubt a great game of football for the purists but it was the fans of the Lilywhites that enjoyed the final outcome, a result that meant Arsenal missed out on being just four points behind league leaders Man. United and hence remain in firm contention for the league title with four matches left of the season then. Instead, it allowed Chelsea replace Arsenal in second place on goal difference, six points behind the Red Devils.

It was after this match at White Hart Lane that Arsenal’s window to realistically catch-up with United in the title race closed and yet again, Gooners are left with the cliché “we’ll see next season” being uttered… shut it!

Wenger needs to toughen up and be ‘axed’ to leave. It’d be a win-win situation as Arsenal needs to return to being a real football club and not an avenue for family gathering on the weekends and the occasional weekdays and Wenger could do with a break from football though I’m sure it’s far from his mind, hence a new atmosphere under which he can manage. He is a very good manager so getting another high profile, Champions League assuring job shouldn’t pose an obstacle as winning a trophy has been since 2005.

Arsenal needs a leader, Francesc Fàbregas is an exceptional talent and a world-class supplier of passes and team creativity but with so much at stake, it takes charisma and firm composure to lead a football club of Arsenal’s stature and Fàbregas is only just assuming these qualities as a player.

Finally, at least one more defender in the mould of Thomas Vermaelen would greatly shore up the backline and give a viable alternative in the event of Vermaelen missing virtually the whole season as he did this season.

©ð.òÁ

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Arsenal’s Week in Perspective


It’s been a good start from the north London club this season with 10 points from four league matches in second place in the Premier League, a good return in front of goal despite the spate of injuries in that department as well as a laudable stingy manner of the defence so far.

Arsenal’s next two matches however have the potential banana skin effect glossed on them especially the trip up north to face Sunderland on Saturday, but first, the visit of Sporting Braga of Portugal on Wednesday night as this season’s UEFA Champions League kicks off this week. The Gunners should be wary of complacency against Braga even though there is a sterling home record standing in the Gunners’ favour against teams from Portugal. Braga pushed FC Porto in its last league match, twice in the lead before losing 3-2 at the Dragao while the club – steadily gaining a reputation of being stubborn – was responsible for the knock out of Celtic in the second qualifying round before gaining the scalp of Sevilla in the final qualifying round.

But Arsenal should have enough quality to overcome Braga on Wednesday night. Marouane Chamakh is slowly seaming into the team and so far is making up for the absence of Robin van Persie, Theo Walcott and Nicklas Bendtner to injury. Captain Cesc Fàbregas still turns in the assured performances, Tomas Rosicky has been in exceptional form, Samir Nasri is back early from injury, Sebastien Squillaci and Laurent Koscielny have been okay in defence all to make injuries to the earlier mentioned along with Abou Diaby and Thomas Vermaelen just for the moment.

A win against Braga being a good bet, it will be a real test to see how Arsene Wenger’s lads can rally to keep up the pace in the league in a tricky trip to the Stadium of Light to face Sunderland.

Sometimes, it’s not the team Arsenal is up against but the manager and Steve Bruce knows how to make visiting clubs have a rough, if not outrightly bad afternoon. The Black Cats may be terrible travellers but at home, the spirit suddenly takes possession and when that happens, even Arsenal find it difficult to play in their usual stride of sleek passing till they decide when it’s time to find the back of the net.

And that ‘just one more pass’ syndrome may well be Arsenal’s undoing at the Stadium of Light. As I’ve said in previous articles here, it is games as this against Sunderland that will really help in Arsenal’s quest to end the title drought suffered since ’05. A look at Tottenham Hotspur for example. The lilywhites ultimate achievement will be to have a better season than Arsenal, meaning beating their north London arch rivals whenever their paths cross while dropping points against clubs like Wigan and West Brom…clubs the three points should be an assured collect. Till Spurs overcome their inferiority complex, Arsenal will keep finishing better than Spurs…maybe for the League Cup.

My opinion, four points from the two games this week will just be acceptable from the Gunners but two wins will be more like it to keep proving their title credentials this season because you get the feeling “beautiful football” may soon become boring to the faithful…

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UEFA Champions League Day 1 Preview – Group E to H


The wait is now down to the hours for the kick-off of the UEFA Champions League and you can view the preview of Group A to D at http://wp.me/puIC6-3u while Group E to H is previewed here.

Group E
Last season’s beaten finalist Bayern Munich and Italian giants AS Roma would straight away pop up as favourites to qualify from the group, but that’s what the paper says. Based on form, Bayern will need to raise their game a notch coupled with a bit of luck in front of goal when the Bavarians begin their campaign at home to the Italian club that on its part, has to raise its game well more than a notch coming on the back of a rattling 5-1 humiliation at Cagliari. I’m thinking Bayern will use this game as a launch pad for what has been a below par start to the season while the light seems a long way off in the tunnel Roma is in now.

As for the other group game in Romania between CFR 1907 Cluj-Napoca and Swiss champions FC Basle, I’ll go for a Cluj win even though Basle are a decent side coupled with the fact that the club – with very similar stripe to Barcelona – has started its domestic season on a good note but the trip to the Eastern bloc may prove too daunting for Basle against a Cluj side that is capable of getting a much bigger scalp in its campaign based on the adventure of previous seasons in this competition.

Group F
Here’s how it is here. We have French champions Olympique Marseille, Russians Spartak Moscow and debutantes MSK Zilina looking forward to fighting for valuable points against each other while only hoping for whatever against overwhelming group favourite Chelsea. The Blues are in exceptional form with four league wins from four…but in truth, Chelsea is prone to a bit of a struggle on the occasional odd trip and that to virtual unknowns Zilina may well not turn out to be a stroll in the park for the Premier League leaders.

The other game between Olympique Marseille and Spartak Moscow at the imposing Velodrome should have a more competitive edge. It is games as this that Marseille, the champions of 1992, must win to stand a strong chance of making the knock-out rounds and I’d have fancied l’oM to achieve just that had a certain Mamadou Niang remained at the club…still not enlightened to the wisdom of allowing him leave. Anyway, Marseille should nick this one even if it turns out tough.

Group G
Touted as the group to watch (trying not to use the cliche), the group could just turn out to be a straight fight for top spot between favourites Real Madrid and AC Milan with Milan confident of its chances against Real having had the better of the Spaniards at the Bernabeu after a draw in the San Siro the last time the two met. But I like the starlets from Ajax, led by Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez and backed up by a good ‘keeper in Marten Stekelenberg. The team spirit of the Dutch side may fall just short of upsetting the odds to claim a second round berth but it sure should create a few headaches, starting with the trip to face Real Madrid that has failed to impress so far under new manager Jose Mourinho but we all know the Portuguese tactician will take any kind of win – scrappy or classy – even at the expense of a goal feast…three points are three points no matter how it is gotten and Real will be out to do just that against Ajax. Milan meanwhile will be out to erase the shock loss at Cesena on Saturday with an assured display against visiting French debutantes Auxerre and the presence of a fearsome attack comprising Ronaldinho, Pato, Robinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic should undo the French resolve. Ibrahimovic especially has something to prove to his new employers following a missed penalty against Cesena…not what he had in mind for a first impression no doubt.

Group H
Should Arsenal fail to win all its home games in this group, there is going to be trouble to simply put it. The Gunners on paper are runaway favourites but Sporting Braga knocked out Sevilla in the final qualifying round while not many clubs fancy trips to places like Donetsk or Belgrade. I therefore see this group staying competitive till match day five and six and here is why. Arsenal is not exactly a good guest on Portuguese soil nearby, let alone the frozen fields far at the former Soviet. So having two home games in its first three matches I feel may play to Arsenal’s advantage especially if the Gunners get a good result in the trip to Partizan Belgrade on match day two. Match day one against Braga at the Emirates should meanwhile be a good one for Arsene Wenger’s side in light of the very dismal record of visiting Portuguese teams to England.

Shakhtar Donetsk should have enough of themselves when Partizan visit Ukraine in the group’s other encounter on match day one. It will be interesting to see how former Arsenal striker Eduardo will fare for Shakhtar in the competition especially against his former employers on match day three when the Croatian will be at the Emirates in what will be an emotional return.

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