Familiarity breeds contempt, so they say. Little wonder that the Champions League is becoming predictable with the very familiar name of Borussia Dortmund drawn from the pot of second seeds to join Arsenal and provide the opposition for the opening fixture at Signal Iduna Park.
For once it is hard for Arsenal to complain about the draw, either in terms of the opposition or the fixtures either side of European fixtures. It’s very much a group of the past catching up with us. Galatasaray, a painful reminder no doubt re-opening old and very justified grievances, whilst the opposite holds true of Anderlecht, a fixture which I am sure the club’s programme editors are already planning to go overboard with memories of 1970. You are, aren’t you, gentlemen? You are…
Ordinarily, fears would be raised immediately about travelling and its impact on the Premier League campaign. Those can be allayed to some degree, only the final group match in Istanbul is preceded by a domestic away game. It doesn’t get much better than that. OK, it could because prior to three of the Champions League fixtures, Arsenal entertain City, Spurs and United with the visit of Galatasaray to The Emirates a particularly nasty run of fixtures, sandwiched between the North London Derby and the visit to Stamford Bridge. The reality is that it is just something we have to deal with now.
Overall, it’s a group that I will disappointed if Arsenal do not win. Key to that will be victories in Dortmund and Brussels. Achieve them and the possibility of avoiding one of the favourites for the tournament may be possible. No doubt one of Real, Bayern or Barcelona will contrive to finish second in their group to meet Arsenal in the round of sixteen as dreams of the quarter-finals go up in smoke. Has the last eight become the limit of our european aspirations?
Paddy Barclay made an interesting point in yesterday’s Evening Standard. Whilst Arsène is right to voice his discontent with referees, that the side have suffered a red card in four of the last five Champions League matches shows an inherent problem with the players at the moment; they aren’t getting to grips with the mentality of continental officials and how they control matches. It isn’t a new problem, English clubs have long misunderstood the referees intentions toward the game, as far back as the late 1970’s when Liverpool were beginning their era of dominance.
But it is a problem that Wenger must solve. Looking at Wednesday’s match against Besiktas, I doubt a Premier League referee would have punished Debuchy’s second challenge, certainly not with a yellow card if they had. But the Portuguese official did and it might well benefit the club if they invited continental referees to train with them for a day, to talk through how they see the game because it is widely acknowledged that their views differ from their English peers.
Going into the group stage, drawing Dortmund in the first game highlights the double punishment for the club after the incompetence of the officiating on Wednesday with Mathieu Debuchy suspended, leaving the options as the fleet-footed Hector Bellerin or current golden boy, Calum Chambers; my money would be on the latter if Koscielny’s Achilles is not playing up. Others are fortunate that UEFA expunges cautions and pending suspensions after the play-offs. There are lessons to be learned, I know Chambers booking was ludicrous and Szczesny’s debatable but they happened because in the Champions League, referees interpret the rules differently, the petty ones more strictly applied. Arsenal players have to learn these lessons but show little sign of doing so.
For Chambers it was a strange day. Booked for coming onto the pitch without the referees’ consent, part of a side that qualified for the Champions League, drawn against Southampton in the League Cup and topped off with a call-up to the England international squad. Well done to him on the latter by the way, very few have recognised his form warranted attention from Hodgson although it is surprising that he was not called into the Under-21s squad first off.
Next week’s match is a friendly, followed by the trip to Switzerland for the first qualifier for Euro2016 when Chambers will be 21. It’s not about him being misused by England now, Hodgson is certainly looking at the wider picture, rebuilding a tattered squad with young players who can grow together over the coming years. I doubt he will play in Switzerland and he may only get 45 minutes at Wembley but it is experience that will serve Arsenal’s purposes as well.
Chambers as a centre back will be looking with interest at the latest transfer gossip, a bid of €15m was apparently made for Sokratis of Dortmund, some €10m short of his employer’s valuation. I am not convinced any of the current rumours are true, preferring instead to be philosophical about the issue of squad strengthening until Monday’s transfer deadline has passed.
Elsewhere, Arsenal’s search for a forward continues to inspire with the latest ‘recruits’ Alessio Cerci who has apparently submitted a transfer request to Torino and a loan deal for Radamel Falcao, neatly sidestepping the question of whether Arsenal could afford to buy him this summer posed to Arsène after Wednesday’s victory.
The question he has to answer in his mind is which course of action is most inherently risky. Relying on existing options, converting Alexis Sanchez Henry-style whilst depending on Theo Walcott’s fitness if something happens to the Chilean and beyond that Sanogo, Campbell or Podolski, deliberately listed in that order as an interpretation of managerial trust. Or does he bring in an outsider to augment that list, to release the pressure on Sanchez, alleviate the concerns about rushing Theo back; well you can guess what advantages are brought over the remaining trio.
Of course, Chuba Akpom is happily learning his trade in the reserves. The timing of Giroud’s injury is unfortunate for the manager and player. Wenger has no opportunity to test the youngster in friendlies, to get a sense of whether he is ready to take the step up. My guess is that Arsène is not contemplating putting Akpom in that spot. He already has one young player growing up in front of the Arsenal public and it isn’t going very well. The last thing he needs is two having to learn their trade in the first team. Maybe he does want that, some validation of Hale End or reinforcement of his belief in youth. Lukas Podolski would look on in envy at such trust.
We shall see. Monday night at…well, Tuesday morning given the club’s penchant for sealing deals after the deadline has passed…