Arsenal FC: 5 Attackers to Watch out for in Champions League Group B
When a tournament draw comes out, fans' first instinct is to go and analyse their team's match-ups and chances of getting out of the group.
Well, the 2012/13 Champions League draw saw most people's attention being caught by Group D, the Group with the champions of Spain, England, Netherlands, and Germany—Real Madrid, Manchester City, Ajax, and Borussia Dortmund.
However, the biggest supporters are focused on their team and their team only (unless, of course, they hope that all the top dogs lose and all the minnows advance to the knockout stages.)
This is what Arsenal fans around the globe are doing. Having drawn French champions Montpellier, Greek champions Olympiakos for the second straight year, and Schalke 04, who finished third in the Bundesliga after giants Dortmund and Bayern Munich.
The defense so far has proven to be solid as a rock, given that the Gunners have conceded no goals in the league, and are the only EPL team to have achieved that.
But can they produce more of the same in the Champions League?
Only if they make sure they keep an eye out for these five attackers.
His Game: John Utaka can be utilized on the wing or up front for Montpellier. He may be needed more as a striker for them, due to their loss of Olivier Giroud, who was transferred to Arsenal just this summer.
Utaka is quite quick despite his age, and could prove a problem for the full-backs, who are currently playing well, but are still slightly inconsistent and unreliable, especially Finnish right-back Carl Jenkinson. He can be a clinical finisher on his day, so Arsenal had better be careful about allowing him chances.
His aerial ability isn't great, because he is only 5'10" (1.79 m), but crossing is one of his strong points, so his being out wide may be a threat.
Utaka has had a long career, playing for several teams, including Portsmouth—the highlight of his Pompey career was giving the 2008 FA Cup-winning assist to compatriot Nwankwo Kanu against Cardiff—Rennes and Lens.
His Game: Rafik Djebbour is the complete package.
And not because he is ambidextrous, resulting in his being a threat to the defence from virtually anywhere inside the opposition half.
It may sound generic, but Djebbour is fast, tall (6'1" or 1.85m), strong, and one of the best finishers in the Greek Super League. The Olympiakos number 10 shirt-bearer can be used as a target man, one to hold up the ball, or even a poacher with his excellent positioning.
Djebbour was the fifth highest scorer in last year's domestic campaign, hitting 11, but now it looks like he may even improve upon that this year. He has already scored three goals in two games and is the leader thus far. In his Olympiakos career, which began last year, he has averaged almost two goals every three games in Greek Super League matches.
Team: Schalke 04
His Game: Ibrahim Afellay is one of the quickest guys around.
Despite his reputation for not making the most of his speed and talent, he is a dangerous player for any team to defend, because of his unpredictability.
The Dutchman's incredibly quick feet catch defenders off guard all the time, making him lethal out on the wing. He sometimes leaves his brilliance in the dressing room, because he can have bad games, but when he is in top form, he creates fear in the mind of a defender.
Afellay's career was mainly with Dutch side PSV, for whom he made 159 appearances, scoring 35 goals in his time in Eindhoven. Last year, he was bought by Barcelona, and spent a good amount of time on their bench before the Catalans decided to loan him out to Schalke.
He has only made one appearance for Schalke so far.
His Game: If I had one word to describe Montpellier attacking midfielder Younes Belhanda, it would be "tricky".
He is a complete midfielder, who reminds me a lot of Santi Cazorla (who has been fiery at Arsenal so far), except with better moves but with a little less vision. Rene Girard, the Montpellier manager, however, thinks he is comparable to Robert Pires.
Belhanda has great moves, shifty feet, and is incredibly athletic: just look at his insane Ligue 1 goal of the season against Marseille. He is the kind of player who can make something out of nothing, using both his dribbling and passing ability as a deadly combination.
Montpellier has been his club since 2003, when he was a youth player. Being linked out of France this transfer window, namely to the likes of Liverpool, Arsenal, and Manchester City, just shows you the talent possessed by this young man who has a nice career ahead.
But even consistently solid defenders like Vermaelen need to watch out for this man.
Team: Schalke 04
His Game: A few years ago, Louis van Gaal (former Bayern Munich and Barcelona manager, current Netherlands manager) was quoted as saying: "In the penalty area, he is the best player in the world, bar none."
He was talking about Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. Huntelaar is a player with almost impeccable technique and an all-round footballer's physique. He excels in the finishing department, being a prolific scorer for almost every team he has represented.
His Schalke and Netherlands records are most impressive: for his current club, Huntelaar has scored 39 goals in 58 appearances, and for his country, 32 goals in 57 appearances. These achievements are under the title of Dutch Football Talent of the Year and Ajax Player of the Year in 2006 on his resume.
Even Mertesacker, who is five inches taller than the Dutchman, needs to be careful on set pieces, because Van Gaal, put it well. This man wreaks havoc inside the opposition 18-yard box, especially on set pieces.
The Afellay-Huntelaar combination is an extremely dangerous one, and don't be surprised if you see a few goals from this man.
By no means an easy group for Arsenal.
It really does help that Olivier Giroud is not only an Arsenal player, but also not Montpellier player to combine with Belhanda!
Of these teams, I think that Schalke could very easily pull off an upset and finish first in the group, if Arsenal slip up against another side.
Schalke-Arsenal is a very interesting match-up, and that is the one you will want to watch.
My prediction is that the Gunners will eke out the first spot berth, despite the efforts of Afellay, Huntelaar, and Schalke, who will barely lose out to Wenger.
I think Montpellier will get third and Olympiakos will get fourth.
What are your predictions and which players do you think are the most dangerous to Arsenal?