I take issue with the lack of thought about what this actually means for the Gunners – it may seem like it gives Arsenal an advantage in their hopes of qualifying for the knock-out stages at a glance but take a closer look and it could in fact jeopardize them.
Firstly, Arsenal have already played Dortmund twice so they will not play them again in the group phase. If Hummels and Schmelzer had suffered injuries prior to Arsenal’s 1-0 win in Dortmund or 2-1 defeat at the Emirates, there may have been a case for ‘boosted hopes’ but it’s a little late in the day for that.
The Gunners are currently level on points with Napoli in Group F on 9 points each – although the North Londoners sit top at present due to their superior goal difference with Dortmund behind on 6 points and Marseille bottom with none.
At present, Arsenal and Napoli would qualify to progress but Arsenal still need to play both the Italians and Marseille and Dortmund must play both again too. With Dortmund’s defender crisis, the group is actually far less predictable in terms of who could progress. For all intents and purposes, Arsenal will likely need to win their remaining two fixtures to be sure but a draw with Napoli or Marseille.
I would still, at this stage, expect Arsenal to progress given their wealth of experience in the competition and their current form but I would also expect Dortmund to do their utmost to progress, given that they were finalists last but Napoli are looking very dangerous both in Serie A and the Champions League and they’ve already (controversially) beaten Dortmund once.
Arsenal’s top concern should be, rather than the Dortmund defenders who they will not face again in all likelihood, but the fact that Napoli could finish top of the group which, as we’ve seen in previous years, would mean Arsenal would face a tougher opponent in the next round if they qualify.
Many Arsenal fans may remember the 2010/11 season when Arsenal finished 2nd in their group behind Shakhtar Donetsk – the Ukrainians drew Roma in the round of 16 who they beat 6-2 on aggregate over two legs and Arsenal drew Barcelona who had finished top of their group. The Spaniards beat the Gunners 4-3 on aggregate despite two breath-taking games of football and Arsenal went out of the competition. Shakhtar ended up exiting the competition to the Catalans in the next round but, nonetheless, it’s much better to finish top of the group.
With Dortmund now something of a quantity unknown due to their defensive woes, Napoli could be the real team who benefits – the Italians are actually the ones who have the ‘boosted hopes’.
Arsenal can no longer rely on the German side to beat either of the other two teams which means Arsenal will have to ensure they take all six points left available to finish top of the group. Any slip ups against Marseille leaves the group in complete disarray.
image: © luigig