After being drawn in Group A in this year’s Champions League, Arsenal will face Ludogorets, Basel, and Paris Saint-Germain. The Champions League scouting report for Arsenal suggests a big test for the Gunners.
Recent Champions League History
After Kiril Domuschiev purchased Ludogorets Razgrad back in September of 2010, the green and white of Ludogorets have been challenging for the Bulgarian title year in and year out. With the influx of cash the new owner brought in, they were able to bring in talented players, and this translated into success into Europe as well.
They impressed in the 2013/2014 Europa League with an unbeaten record in the group stage and ousted Italian cup holders Lazio 4-3 on aggregate. The following year, after one of the most exciting finishes to a football match in the last round of qualifying against Steau Bucuresti, Ludogorets qualified for their first Champions League campaign.
The Eagles then held their own against the likes of Liverpool, Real Madrid, and Basel. After unfortunate 1-2 losses against powerhouses Madrid and Liverpool, they grabbed their first Champions League win with a 1-0 win in Sofia, Bulgaria against another team in this year’s Group A – Switzerland giant FC Basel. After winning their qualifying matches this year, Ludogorets became the first Bulgarian outfit to qualify for two separate Champions League group stages.
With a ten-match winning streak in their domestic league, Ludogorets will have all the confidence and optimism necessary to shake up the standings in Group A. After a dominating performance in winning the Bulgarian title last season, they took home the Footballer of the Year award, Manager of the Year, and Best Young Player of the Year award as well.
Sweeping these impressive categories as voted by the professional footballers in Bulgaria will give them a confidence boost to compete with the likes of Arsenal and Paris Saint-Germain. Players like the central attacking midfielder Marcelinho gel the team together and will be a force to be reckoned with.
Despite the financial and football success that came with the new ownership, Ludogorets cannot compete with some of the wealthiest clubs in Europe like Arsenal and PSG. In addition, familiar foes and perennial Swiss champions Basel will be well aware of what the Bulgarians can bring, and will be looking to avenge the 1-0 loss a few years ago. Despite all their successes in Bulgaria, their best bet and most realistic goal will be to try to scrap for points and squeeze into the Europa League with a narrow third place finish in the group.
Recent Champions League History
Basel have once again conquered their domestic league to qualify for the Champions League. The perennial Swiss title challengers have caused plenty of chaos in past recent Champions’ League group stages, knocking out the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool into the Europa League. Arsenal must be wary to not let this happen to them.
Another Xhaka battle is in the mix as well as Granit will face his brother Taulant for the second time in months as they also faced off in a duel between Switzerland and Albania in Euro 2016.
Also, the addition of Seydou Doumbia on loan from Roma further bolsters their goalscoring department. A rugged defence features Adama Traoré and former Champions League winner with Inter Milan Walter Samuel.
This team will not be a pushover for any of their three Champions League opponents. Often playing fluid football, Basel are a very well-organised and can hit back on the counter when their opponents are caught out of position.
Like Ludogorets, Basel are used to winning many matches in their respective home leagues, and they will be able to bring this winning attitude to the Champions League. This type of an opponent who has no shortage of belief in their own abilities is at times the most worrisome to be drawn against. Forward Seydou Doumbia will look to be a consistent performer for his new club, and if he can find that consistent form he will be a force to be reckoned with.
As good as their starting eleven is, there seems to be a lack of depth in the squad. Key figures have left the club in recent transfer windows including star defender Fabian Schar and highly talented with a big potential Embolo. As both have moved onto the Bundesliga, the squad depth has been hindered and may not be able to dominate their domestic league and play midweek as effectively as past recent seasons.
The young forward Breel Donald Embolo is one of the world’s best young talents, and was impressive alongside Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka in the Euros with his constant movement and touch. His absence will be a huge blow for their chances to advance out of Group A, that is unless Doumbia can show the world what his true talent really is.
Recent Champions League History
Coming off a disappointing loss in last year’s quarter-final match-up with Manchester City, PSG will be looking to show the world that they are well capable of beating their English opponents.
Last year they looked destined for a deeper run in the knockout stages. The Parisians were able to oust the Blues of Chelsea after struggling against them in recent seasons, but ended up losing 3-2 on aggregate to the Citizens. Now, after losing Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the chances of a deep run into the knockout stages are certainly slimmer than last season.
PSG have some of the best players in the world. Defenders Thiago Silva, Marquinhos, Maxwell, and Serge Aurier look to hold down the fort in the back while offering help going forward as well.
A very solid midfield with the likes of Adrien Rabiot, Marco Veratti, and Thiago Motta look to duel the loaded midfield that the Gunners happily boast. The wingers of Javier Pastore, now wearing the number 10 jersey Zlatan abandoned, and Lucas Moura make for a difficult time for Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal.
Finally, the forwards Hateem Ben Arfa, who is coming off an excellent season with Nice, and Uruguyan Edinson Cavani will look to cause all the havoc they are capable of bringing to current captain at the back Laurent Koscienly and new addition Shokdran Mustafi. If Cavani can find the form he produced at Napoli, then the two ties both home and away will be very tough to get points for the North Londoners.
The defensive woes of PSG have been exposed on countless occasions in recent Champions League campaigns as they have been unable to keep clean sheets against formidable opponents. With the recent sale of David Luiz back to Chelsea, the defence will be missing a star player for sure.
Whether it’s a result of a lack of focus or lack of discipline and organisation in the set-up of the team, attack-minded manager Unai Emery will have a handful to cope with coming up against Alexis Sanchez and company.
The depth of the Arsenal side will be key in coping with the challenges that title chasing in both the English Premier League and Champions League for the months to come.