Wednesday, 27 November 2013

What Next For Arsenal In The Champions League

After beating Marseille 2-0 last night Arsenal are top of their Champions League group with 12 points from five games, but they still aren't guaranteed a place in the knockout stages. I don't think any team has ever failed to qualify from their Champions League group with 12 points but it could happen this season. If Napoli beat Arsenal and Dortmund win away to Marseille there will be three teams tied on 12 points in the group.

In that scenario the results against Marseille would be eliminated and there would be a mini group among Arsenal, Dortmund and Napoli. At the moment Arsenal and Dortmund are would be in the prime positions to go through as they both beat Napoli by two goals at home. With Napoli and Arsenal playing each other Dortmund will actually be guaranteed a spot in the last 16 if they beat Marseille.

For Arsenal to qualify they can win, draw or even lose by up to two goals. Ideally of course they would win the group and to do that all they need to do is a avoid defeat. By winning the group the chances are Arsenal would get a somewhat easier draw in the last 16 as they would be up against one of the group runners up. Looking through the groups the standard of the teams likely to finish second in each group is certainly not as high as the teams currently likely to win each group.

Napoli are a very tough team to beat at home but Arsenal have shown how good they can be away from home already this season. They don't need to go there looking for a win but a strong defensive display will be needed while they maintain the threat of hitting Napoli on the break. I think Arsenal have every chance of avoiding defeat and therefore winning the group. If they do so they will more than likely steer clear of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Bayern Munich and PSG in the last 16 and that can't be a bad thing.

Of course they would still have a tough opponent and if they were to get through they would more than likely have to play one of those teams in the quarter finals. This Arsenal team are capable of beating any team on their day and they could certainly progress to the semi finals even, but I can't see them winning the Champions League this season. The further they go the better though as it will generate more income and raise the profile of the club for potential transfer targets. 

Arsenal were far from overly impressive last night against Marseille but they still did more than enough to win. It was another case of playing with the handbrake on which the team have been a little guilty of in recent weeks. Despite that handbrake being applied the team have still being getting the results to keep them on top of the league and their Champions League group. 

Arsene Wenger has said he will rotate the team a little in the next two games and he has the players available to do that now.  With a trip to Cardiff on Saturday in the league quickly followed by a home game with Hull on Wednesday night and Everton the following Sunday there is a definite need to rotate. The important thing is not to take any of those teams for granted and get as many points as possible before playing both Manchester City and Chelsea later in December.

I would imagine that Mesut Ozil might be one of the players to get a rest in one of those games as he has looked a little bit off his best in recent games. He has being playing twice a week almost every week since joining Arsenal as well as playing for his country and he was unwell only a couple of weeks ago. If he is given a chance to recharge his batteries I'm sure he will be on the bench in case he is needed.

I think it might not be a bad idea for Aaron Ramsey to get a bit of a break too as his performances have been so important for the team this season. It would be no good for him or the team if he was overused and his form suffered as a result. 

The one player it's very hard to see being rested is Olivier Giroud and he might just be the player who needs it most. I can't imagine Nicklas Bendtner will actually start a game for Arsenal and the only other alternative in the striking role is Theo Walcott who has just returned from injury. There is a case for Walcott playing as the central striker against Cardiff or Hull and using his pace to undo their defences, but he only has 30 minutes under his belt after missing over two months with an injury. If Giroud is rested his defensive abilities at set pieces will be sorely missed along with what he brings to the team in attack.

They're decisions the manager has to make and hopefully he will get them right and the team's results won't suffer. He will be encouraged by the shift Jack Wilshere put in last night and the two goals he scored. He hasn't been at his best so far this season but his performance last night was an indication of how much he has to offer the team. Any of the players on the bench last night could easily play from the start without the team losing too much of it's fluency and they could all get a chance in the next week. 

Cardiff are no mugs and have shown at home against the two Manchester clubs that they are more than capable of getting results at home. Hull have looked good in defence but struggled away from home and with the right performance should be there for the taking. Everton have only lost one league game so far this season and that was away to a City team who are scoring goals for fun at home. 

Those three teams have all to be played before Napoli are taken on in what's going to be a very busy couple of weeks for the team. Hopefully they can come through those games still on top of the league and awaiting the draw for the knockout stages of the Champions League as group winners. 

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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