Since losing the 2006 Champions League final to Barcelona in Paris, Arsenal have been to the semi-finals once, the quarter finals twice and have been knocked out in the Round of 16 five times, including in each of the last four years.
If your glass is half full, you’d say ‘what a tremendous record getting out of the group so often’. In fact the last time they failed to get out of the first group (as it was then) was in 1999/00, so their record of progressing matches their record of qualifying for the competition. If your glass is half empty, you’d probably say ‘it’s all well and good qualifying and getting out of the group every year, but they never look like winning it.’ Both statements are fair.
They’re in a group with Borussia Dortmund, Anderlecht and Galatasaray. Last season they finished second behind Jurgen Klopp’s Dortmund team because of the head to head goal difference - they both finished on 12 points. The goal that separated them was scored by Robert Lewandowski, who is of course now at Bayern Munich. They have replaced the Pole with Ciro Immobile and I don’t see that being a like-for-like swap. In fact I don’t think the Germans will be as strong as last season and, while Arsenal have lost Olivier Giroud to injury, Danny Welbeck may well be a shrewd signing if his two goals for England in their win in Switzerland are anything to go by.
Welbeck is part of one of my favourite bets surrounding the soccer odds for Arsenal in the UEFA Champions League. He is 8/1 to be the club’s top scorer. When you look at the last three four seasons, the centre forward has been the leading scorer for the Gunners. Admittedly it was shared last year and in 2010/11, but you still get paid out on dead heat terms.
So Arsenal are stronger, with Alexis Sanchez added to the squad, while Dortmund are weaker. Add to that Arsene Wenger’s experience in getting to the knockout stages and I think the Gunners will just edge a group where I expect them to win home and away against Anderlecht, win at home and at least draw in Turkey and win one and lose one to Dortmund.
The Gunners are 5/4 to win the group and I see them doing just that, but don’t be surprised if their Premier League e form falters slightly during this period. Their league fixtures after a Champions League group match have been unkind to the Londoners. They travel away in five of the six weeks they have a European game, including a trip to Chelsea. Their only home game (against Newcastle) is after the final group game away at Galatasaray.
Arsenal are priced up at 9/2 to be the English team which goes furthest. It’s not a price I like because of their habit of leaving the party at the last 16 stage. As I mentioned last season they finished second in the group and were handed Bayern Munich, the season before they won the group, but were also handed Bayern, in 2011/12 they won their group, but left themselves a mountain to climb after losing the away leg of their Round of 16 tie 4-0 in Milan. They won the return 3-0, but the damage was done in Italy. In 2010/11 they finished second in the group and were drawn against eventual winners Barcelona.
You can point to bad luck with the draw in three of those four campaigns, but I’m not sure they have the leadership in the team to go away to the huge European clubs and get a scruffy draw, with an away goal. Over the last four seasons, in the 36 matches they have played, there have only been four draws, losing 11 and winning 21. Only one of those draws was in the last 16 and that was last year in Munich, but they had already lost the home leg 2-0 and you could argue Bayern were more occupied by not losing the game.
I’m going to trust Wenger’s men to win their group, but I think the naivety will mean they get knocked out in the Round of 16 again. That is 13/8, which I think is fair, unless they get a very easy draw and maybe they’re due one!