Arsenal draw 'group of death' while Chelsea have it easy
Group F***: tough season ahead as Gunners face Borussia Dortmund, Napoli and Marseille
THERE was no immediate comment from Arsene Wenger in the wake of Arsenal’s Champions League draw on Thursday evening. That’s probably because the Arsenal manager was receiving smelling salts after seeing the names of Borussia Dortmund, Napoli and Marseille drawn alongside that of his own club.
The draw for the Champions League, coming a few hours after Arsenal had learned that striker Lukas Podolski will be out for ten weeks with a hamstring injury, completed a miserable Thursday for Wenger. The official Arsenal website reported the draw without comment, merely instructing Gooners on the dates and times of all their six fixtures in Group F, beginning with a trip to Marseille on 18 September.
Of all their away trips in the competition this season, the voyage to France will be the least daunting for Arsenal. They were drawn with Marseille two years ago and won 1-0 on the Mediterranean thanks to a late goal from Aaron Ramsey.
But Dortmund are the Champions League runners-up, who went through the whole of last season’s group phase unbeaten, while Napoli have made a host of summer signings, including Gonzalo Higuain, Jose Callejon, Raul Albiol and Pepe Reina. The fact they are now coached by Rafa Benitez, a man with vast experience of English football, will also be a worry to Wenger.
But if Arsenal think they were dealt a bad hand by the draw, spare a though for Celtic manager Neil Lennon. On Wednesday night he was in rapture as the Scottish champions came from behind to defeat Shakhter Karagandy in their Champions League play-off second leg; on Thursday Lennon looked on in disbelief as Celtic were drawn alongside Barcelona, AC Milan and Ajax.
"In terms of glamour, I don't think you could ask for anything more," said the Celtic manager, putting on his bravest face. "In terms of difficulty, I don't think you could have asked for anything more either in terms of the quality of teams we are going to face. We are going to be playing three wonderful football clubs."
Chelsea were handed the easiest draw among the British clubs, with the Blues grouped with Schalke, the weakest German side, Romanian outfit Steaua Bucharest and Swiss champions FC Basel.
Manchester United also struck it lucky. The Premier League champions were drawn in Group A with Shakhtar Donetsk, Bayer Leverkusen and Real Sociedad.
Neighbours Manchester City, who have failed to make it out of the group stages in the past two seasons, will fancy their chances third time around. Though they will have to take on defending champions Bayern Munich – who at 7/2 are the bookies’ favourites – City should have no trouble seeing off CSKA Moscow and Czech qualifiers Viktoria Plzen.
“Interesting draw. Big year for us,” tweeted City captain Vincent Kompany. Meanwhile Wenger was still at the smelling salts. ·