08 agosto 2013

Forget the transfers, what I care about is the Champions League play-off!

Can we please stop thinking about Luis Suarez, Ciprian Marica, Karim Benzema, Cesc Fàbregas, Luiz Gustavo e Alharbi El Jadeyaoui for one second?
Just for one moment, the time needed to realize that tomorrow it will be a huge day for the Arsenal, as the Champions League play-off draw will take place in Nyon and in less than ten days we will be fighting to reach the group stage: it’s massive, but Gooners around the world seem to be bothered exclusively by the transfers.

Between a swear at Arsène Wenger and Ivan Gazidis, some ridiculous names thrown-in by so-called “ITKs” and unbelievable amounts of cash supposedly sleeping in the Club’s secret chambers, I feel we’re all overlooking the very first turning point of the year.

How many of you actually know the names of the Club we might face?

Let me help you with this detailed list of the opponents we could be playing on the road to the Champions League:

PSV Eindhoven:
Probably the most well-known among potential opponents, PSV won the European Cup once back in 1988 and have been on the top of Eredivise ever since, together with arch-rivals of Ajax.
As expected, the squad is young, attacking-minded and very dynamic, which make them a dangerous team.
Any individual to watch out? Here you go!
Georginio Wijnaldum first, an excellent playmaker with an eye for goals, and his fellow colleague Adam Maher, brought in from AZ Alkmaar.
Despite being only 20yo, the gifted midfielder has already 4 caps for Holland.
Beware the movement, speed and intensity that Philipp Cocu’s players will put on the pitch, three qualities very difficult to face at the beginning of the season.

Still under scrutiny from UEFA and threatened with sudden exclusion from any continental competition, the Turkish Club is another habitué of the Champions League and have already met the Arsenal in the past, ending up beaten by the Gunners in both occasions.
A memorable win away saw Arsène Wenger’s men putting 5 past the hosts, with some rare goals from Aaron Ramsey, Alex Song and Abou Diaby plus Theo Walcott and Emmanuel Adebayor.
It would be just great to repeat the performance, however we should keep an eye on strikers Moussa Sow and Achille Webó who will surely love to play the troublers role.

Here’s another Club being watched very closely by UEFA: following the 5 years ban inflicted to the Club’s sporting director for an attempted match fixing back in 2008, Metalist have been hit by an official investigation led by Michel Platini&Co. and its participation to European competitions has been put in danger.
The exclusion looks quite a remote possibility, however the alarm started ringing.
Half-debutants in Europe elite competitions, the Ukrainians unknown universe to the Arsenal, who could face either a team unable to carry the weight of huge expectations or a group of players literally flying high after their unexpected qualification for the play-off.
Metalist will surely rely on Argentineans José Sosa (a former Bayern and Napoli playmaker) and Papu Gomez, a dazzling winger recently recruited from Catania.

Pacos de Ferreira:
On paper, the most favorable draw; on the pitch...too!
Seen the recent series of massively disappointing draws (Barcelona twice and Bayern last year), I don’t expect the luck to be on our side but I hope we’ll end up paired to the Portuguese outfit.
Surprisingly able to overlap Braga in the race for the Champions League spot, Costinha’s men don’t seem to be at the Arsenal level in terms of quality and will also feel the pressure of playing in the most important football competition in Europe for the first time.
The main man for Pacos de Ferreira is Vitor – at least it’s what I’ve been told. A creative midfielder, the Portuguese has been instrumental for Pacos over the last year, scoring and creating most of the goals for the Club.

Real Sociedad:
Here’s another almost-debutant in the Champions League: the Spanish minnows sprung the surprise last year by finishing behind the usual suspects in the Spanish league.
Much credit must be paid to manager Philippe Montanier and midfielder Asier Illaramendi, unfortunately for the Club both left at the end of the season: the coach flew back to France to take the reins at Rennes; the young midfield sensation has been signed by Real Madrid for the insane amount of 39m Euros.
However, Real Sociedad will count on the third hero of the sensational past season, Carlos Vela.
Mr. Chip grew-up at London Colney but failed to make the grade and has been sold to Real Sociedad after a first loan spell, leaving a bitter taste among some Gooners.
The Mexican is technically gifted and still young, he never had a proper chance in London and looks way better than TGSTEL and Marouane Chamakh, who are both still at the Club.
Like Metalist, Real Sociedad could either be a very tough opponent or a kind of sparring partner, depending on how the players will prepare their debut.

None of the mentioned Clubs looks to be a real threat to the Arsenal, the Gunners look definitely better in terms of individuals, class and experience but unfortunately matches are decided on the field, not with history and reputation.
On the pitch only balls won, team unity and goals scored make the difference: focus, physical presence and cool mind are the only three ingredients which can help the Gunners prevailing on these rivals.

Let’s wait for the draw and forget for one moment the vortex of names and rumors that surrounds the Arsenal since the very first day after the end of last season.


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