Arsenal’s Group: Champions League Analysis

September 4, 2007

When Arsenal were drawn against Sparta Prague in the Champions League qualifiers, most, if not all Gooners predicted a relatively simple, yet physically testing passage to the group stages of Europe’s elite club competition. At the end of the two legged contest, they were proved right- the Gunners winning 2-0 away from home courtesy of goals from Cesc Fabregas and Aliaksander Hleb, while later beating the Czech side 3-0 at the Emirates stadium after Rosicky netted against his former club and then Fabregas and Da Silva finished them off. During the Champions League draw, Arsenal could have drawn the likes of Lyon and Valencia; however the eventual outcome was Czech side Slavia Prague, Romanian side Steaua Bucharest and Spanish side Sevilla. Here I take a look at how those sides got into the Champions League, as well as what kind of threat they will pose to us.

SK Slavia Praha (Slavia Prague)

Although the Czech side beat Dutch giants Ajax to take their place in the Champions League group stages, they should not pose much of a threat to the youthful Gunners. As the Gunners have already beaten Czech champions Sparta to reach the same stage as the lesser known Slavia Prague taking care of their lesser known counterparts should not prove a problem for the likes of Rosicky, Fabregas and van Persie. For the weak Arsenal side of yesteryear the away match would have been a problem; however the Arsenal side of this season has shown that it is ready to scrape it out with the kickers of the football world and should find them as much as a problem as Sparta were to beat. Slavia got into the group stages of the Champions League by beating Ajax 1-0 in the Amsterdam Arena and then taking them back to the Czech Republic and winning 2-1. While in the past Slavia had players such as Karek Poborsky, Patrik Berger and Pavel Kuka, their most threatening player of the modern side is Vladimir Smicer. Although Smicer has already picked up a Champions League winners medal during his time at Liverpool, even scoring during the remarkable comeback against AC Milan, he is on the wane as a player and the likes of Gilberto should be able to shackle him with ease.

Most notable player: Vladimir Smicer

FC Steaua Bucureşti

Steaua Bucharest broke into the group stages of the Champions League by beating Belarusian side BATE Borisov 4-2 on aggregate. After a thrilling 2-2 draw in Belarus, Steaua comfortably ran out 2-0 winners at the Stadionul Ghencea (stadium) in Bucharest. Steaua Bucharest are the most successful domestic side in Romania’s football history, having already won twenty-three National Championships, twenty Romanian Cups and the European Cup in 1986. While they will prove a harder task than Slavia, they will not be the hardest team Arsenal will have to face this season and if Arsenal are not careless at the back and keep it tight, they will do well against their Romanian opponents. In history their best player would have to be current head coach Gheorge Hagi- regarded as the best player to ever play for Romania. At the present moment, star players include Nicolae Dica, a promising striker wanted by the likes of Benfica and Aston Villa during the summer transfer window; Mirel Radoi, a strong, powerful defender that can play all across the backline; and Valentin Badea, a technically gifted striker that Steaua coach Becali said would eventually become Romania’s top striker.

Most notable player: Nicolae Dica

Sevilla FC

Sevilla are a side that love to come out and the beautiful game as it should be played. A great side to watch going forward, Sevilla surprised many last year when they competed in an astonishing title race with the Real Madrid and Barcelona- despite spending much, much less than the other two clubs. Having won the UEFA Cup for the past two years in a row, as well as picking up the Copa Del Rey and the Spanish Super Cup, Sevilla are blessed with an array of talent. Possessing the likes of Fredric Kanoute and Luis Fabiano up front, Jesus Navas and Renato in midfield as well as the dynamic Dani Alves in defense, they are a side that has quality in all areas of the pitch. Their best player has to be the Brazilian fullback Dani Alves, a player that orchestrates the majority of their attacks from his position at the right side of the defense- his brilliance causing owner del Nido to put a £27m price tag on his head to ward off potential buyers. Sevilla got into the group stages of the Champions League by beating Greek side AEK Athens 6-1 on aggregate, winning the first leg 2-0 at home and then destroying AEK 4-1 during the second leg in Greece. While Sevilla’s abundance of quality all over means they will prove a testing team for the Gunners, Sevilla love to come out and attack- and more often than not Arsenal beat those kinds of sides.

Most notable player: Dani Alves

This Champions League group certainly has the potential to be interesting- to state the obvious we could slip up in any of our games yet we could also win them all. A win at home followed by a draw away to each of the other teams should be enough, although if we want to finish top perhaps we should be looking at taking maximum points from the Slavia and Steaua Bucharest encounters (and take a draw at the very least in Spain). While last season’s Champions League campaign was a bit shambolic, one only hopes we can do as well as we did in 2005/06- and not just reach the final this time, but win it as well.

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