Be bold with B hosts
Arsenal and Schalke both got off to winning starts in Group B on matchday one of the Champions League, and the pair can cement their position as favourites for qualification this Wednesday on home soil against the two sides marooned on zero points.
The Gunners’ unbeaten start to the season may have come to a disappointing halt when Chelsea visited on Saturday, but perhaps a bigger concern than the result was the first-half injury to Abou Diaby.
The Frenchman has been a key reason behind some impressive Arsenal displays this term, as has the deep-lying Mikel Arteta, who was also labelled an early doubt in the aftermath of the weekend’s London derby. However, the influential Spaniard should be fit enough face the Greek champions.
There were questions asked about Arsenal’s firepower when they opened the campaign with two blanks, but there’s no shortage of goals for now. Eighteen in the past half-a-dozen encounters have included two six-goal hammerings and, in Santi Cazorla, they have a creative player capable of unlocking the best defences in Europe.
Arsenal and Olympiakos come face-to-face in the group stage for a second consecutive season and manager Arsener Wenger is likely to send out a much more compact unit that the weakened starting XI that prevailed 2-1 a year ago to ensure themselves of a six-point buffer before they go into their double header with Schalke.
The Bundesliga outfit themselves should make light work of French champions Montpellier in Germany in Group B’s other tie, and it’s worth combining the two home sides for a double at odds against.
La Paillade were never going to be able to replicate the success story of their title winning campaign, especially after the sale of their talismanic striker Olivier Giroud, and the hangover is likely to last into at least a third month of the new season.
Schalke, too, lost a prolific forward this summer – albeit one in the twilight of their career – in Raúl, but they have kept hold of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. The Dutchman netted 39 goals last term and has begun the year in fine scoring form again with five in his last eight appearances for club and country.
Die Knappen have been terrific at the Veltins-Arenain this past year and since a surprise loss to Kaiserslautern last October, they have only been defeated by champions Borussia Dortmund, Europa League darlings Athletic Bilbao and Bayern Munich, winning 15 and drawing two of their 20 home matches.
Contrastingly, the Ligue Un club have begun their defence nervously and sit in the lower half, but they did save their best performance of the campaign for a Champions League bow with Arsenal at the Stade de la Mosson. The opportunity for the likes of Younès Belhanda, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and Rémy Cabella to to shine on the highest stage is an incentive, but it won’t be enough to help them post points on the board on matchday two.
Elsewhere, Manchester City meet Dortmund on Wednesday evening with each side looking to strengthen their position in this year’s perceived group of death – and we reckon it could lend itself to an exciting evening at the Etihad.
Both clubs proved to be somewhat wet behind the ears in last year’s Champions League, appearing overawed early before early exits. Having taken their domestic titles, they’ll be desperate to prove their worth to the European arena.
Their respective league successes last term were built on free-flowing attacking football and scoring goals for fun. Neither have stopped that mentality this campaign, but both are now finding themselves breached at the back too.
City’s 2-1 victory at Fulham on Saturday lifted them up to fourth, but another goal conceded meant it’s now six league games (and nine in all competitions) without a clean sheet; the most ever matches without a shutout from a defending Premier League champion.
BVB are also shipping goals, drawing 3-3 at Eintracht Frankfurt and losing 3-2 to Hamburg in their most recent away encounters, but they did recover to thump Borussia Monchengladbach 5-0 at the weekend.
In their first game, Dortmund only managed to sneak past Ajax by the odd strike, but that shouldn’t disguise a match that was littered with clear chances including a missed penalty from Mats Hummels. Meanwhile Roberto Mancini’s team were narrowly going down at the Bernabéu amid a flurry of late goals.
With defences under the spotlight, it seems the perfect opportunity for the forwards to shine and considering the possibility of Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez, Edin Dzeko, Mario Götze, Marco Reus and Robert Lewandowski all featuring, it leads us towards an outcome of over three and a half goals at nearly 2/1.
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