Saturday 25 November 2017

Alan Hansen: Moyes faces bumpy ride but it's Wenger who may be derailed

The Champions League kicks off tomorrow and Arsenal are in real danger of not making the knockout stages, according to our top columnist

Arsene Wenger turns 64 next month
Arsene Wenger turns 64 next month

Alan Hansen

The Champions League kicks off tomorrow and Arsenal are in real danger of not making the knockout stages.

Group A: Shakhtar Donetsk, Bayer Leverkusen, Real Sociedad

This a tough group and Manchester United have some work to do to progress.

Over the past few seasons, United have had some comfortable groups, but despite the lack of an obvious European heavyweight, you do not want to face teams from Germany or Spain, or a strong outfit like Shakhtar Donetsk.

This is a new era under David Moyes and there will be ups and downs because, despite the quality of their squad, the champions lack the creativity in the final third, which is crucial against the best teams.

United may also be exposed by quicker opponents if Rio Ferdinand or Nemanja Vidic are caught upfield.

Despite their weaknesses, however, I expect them to finish in the top two.

Verdict: qualify

MANCHESTER CITY

Group D: Bayern Munich, CSKA Moscow, Viktoria Plzen

Manuel Pellegrini must resolve Manchester City's defensive problems if his team are to qualify, but the early signs suggest little progress is being made.

City have spent fortunes on attacking players in recent years, yet have continually overlooked the need to add real quality alongside Vincent Kompany.

As a result, City still look in trouble every time a team attacks their left flank and they have not learned how to defend the near post.

In Europe, these flaws will be targeted and exposed and, although you would expect them to qualify with Bayern Munich, City's bad record in the Champions League could go on.

Their results against CSKA Moscow are likely to be crucial.

Verdict: scrape through

CHELSEA

Group E: Basel, Schalke, Steaua Bucharest

Chelsea will be expected to coast this group, but the reality is that Jose Mourinho's team are up against dangerous opponents. Basel, Schalke and Steaua all have a good European pedigree and will have identified that Chelsea's main weakness is their lack of a reliable centre-forward.

Mourinho will ensure that Chelsea are not complacent – last season's group-stage exit should take care of that – but he could have a problem in finding the goals to go through.

Fernando Torres is having a torrid time, Demba Ba is not good enough and Samuel Eto'o has seen better days. Romelu Lukaku is Chelsea's best bet, but he has been loaned out. Chelsea should progress, but it is hard to see them repeating their Champions League success of 2012.

Verdict: qualify

ARSENAL

Group F: Borussia Dortmund, Napoli, Marseille

While Arsenal have signed a great player in Mesut Ozil, the harsh reality is that this does nothing to solve their crucial weakness of being vulnerable when not in possession.

And having been drawn in the hardest group of all, Arsene Wenger's decision to sign Ozil rather than a commanding defender and leader could see Arsenal fall at the first hurdle.

Their counter-attacking approach works in the Premier League but Borussia Dortmund and Napoli are capable of exposing their inability to defend properly without the ball.

Arsenal have not changed. They will continue to have good runs, but then see it all fall apart with a catastrophic defeat, which is why I fear for them in this group.

Verdict: Europa League

CELTIC

Group H: Barcelona, AC Milan, Ajax

Neil Lennon's team were a shining light for a nation that was on its knees when they progressed to the knockout stages last season.

It was an amazing achievement which saw them beat Barcelona in Glasgow and perform brilliantly in the Nou Camp, but you have to say that it is probably a bridge too far to expect Celtic to repeat their heroics in this campaign.

They have lost Gary Hooper and Victor Wanyama, two big players from last season's campaign, and not really replaced them with the quality required.

Celtic have a togetherness and the electric atmosphere of Celtic Park, which gives their players a huge lift in terms of belief. However, I just cannot see them going through.

Verdict: Europa League (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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