The press have taken to calling it the ‘group of death’ but is it as deadly as it appears?
Borussia Dortmund were Champions League finalists last term but they are not domestic champions in Germany. Napoli underwent something of a revolution this summer under new boss Rafa Benitez but they lost their best player in Edinson Cavani and they not domestic champions in Italy either. Meanwhile, Marseille are regulars of the competition but they are not domestic champions of France.
Dortmund will likely be the toughest opponents for Arsenal (or anyone, for that matter) they were finalists last term and previous Bundesliga champions in 2011/12 and they have possess some of the finest young talent on the continent in the likes of Marco Reus, Mats Hummels, Ilkay Gundogan, and new signings Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
However, Dortmund won the Champions League once but that was back in 1997 and they haven’t won a single European trophy in over a decade.
They have also lost one of their best players in Mario Gotze who now resides at last season’s Champions League winners Bayern Munich and they’re still having issues with star striker Robert Lewandowski whose currently playing with one eye on the exit door this summer when his contract expires.
Napoli, meanwhile, have never won the European Cup or the Champions League. They won the UEFA Cup once but that was way back in 1989. They haven’t won the Serie A title since 1990 and have only just emerged as genuine domestic title contenders last season – prior to that they placed out of the top three in all but one season (2010/11) since 1990.
They have also lost their best player – Edinson Cavani’s departure undoubtedly diminishes their strike force – they have signed Gonzalo Higuain and Pepe Reina on loan and they do have players that can hurt Arsenal – Marek Hamsik, Goran Pandev and youngster Lorenzo Insigne who scored against the Gunners in the Emirates Cup just this summer but they are not the kind of level that one would associate with a ‘group of death’. Not really.
And as for Marseille, they won the Champions League in 1993 and were runners up in 1991 – they were also runners up in the Europa League in 2004 but, recently, they’ve not been the force du France they previously were. They’ve won the Ligue 1 title just once in a decade (2009/10) and they’re most dangerous players are still young and inexperienced – the likes of Florian Thauvin and the Ayew brothers but their top scorer Andre-Pierre Gignac was nowhere near the top scoring honours of the French top tier – he scored less than half the goals Zlatan Ibrahimovich did for PSG.
They do, however, have one of the most creative players in France – Mathieu Valbuena notched up the most assists in Ligue 1, 12 in total, for Marseille last term and guess who came joint-top in with him? New signing from Lille Dimitri Payet.
These three teams are very very good and definitely dangerous – they can hurt Arsenal – but lets not forget Arsenal can hurt them too. Arsenal’s Champions League record is top notch and they are in the top pot (regardless of the fact they’ve never won the competition).
Last term Manchester City were drawn in the ‘group of death’ and they didn’t win a single game, embarrassingly exiting the competition last in the group meaning they didn’t even qualify for the Europa League. But City were up against a group of champions (themselves included) in Real Madrid (9 times winners of the European Cup/Champions League), Borussia Dortmund (eventual finalists) and Ajax (four-time European Cup/Champions League winners).
That’s a proper group of death – that’s a group of certain death, almost – what Arsenal have of their hands is a group of potential death, a dangerous group of pot luck and uncertainty but, as we saw at the Allianz Arena last term when Arsenal beat eventual winners Bayern Munich 2-0 on their own turf, Arsenal can beat anyone of their night.
After all, the Gunners will still be favourites to progress, given their standing and status in the competition. There is a reason they’re in the top pot for the draw – it’s because they’re a top team. They’ve made it out of the group stages every single campaign for a decade and, especially with the arrival of Mesut Ozil, you’d have to back them to maintain that record this term or, perhaps, die trying,
image: © andyjakeman