Arsenal have made a strong start to their Champions League campaign taking four points from their opening two matches. It strikes in complete contrast to last season when the Gunners struggled early in the competition, and were in danger of elimination at the group stage.
However, Arsene Wenger’s men remain one of the outsiders to win the tournament after failing to compete in the latter stages since the 2009-10 season. As a result, Arsenal are backed in the latest UEFA competitions betting odds at 25/1 to win the Champions League for the first time in their history.
For too long the Gunners were a selling club, losing their best players to Barcelona and Manchester United when Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie left the Emirates. Those departures limited their ability to compete with the more formidable outfits in Europe’s elite tournament since they reached the final in 2006.
The closest Arsenal have come to the Champions League crown since is their appearance in the semi-final in 2009 when they were hammered 4-1 on aggregate by United. Wenger’s side have failed to progress beyond the round-of-16 stage in the past six terms, losing to Bayern Munich and Barcelona twice along with a frustrating exit at the hands of Monaco.
Wenger is in his 20th season at the club and reports continue to suggest that he could leave the Emirates at the end of the campaign to take up the England job. This may be his final chance to win the competition, although he will have to pull off the feat with a squad lacking in depth at the back and short on top quality behind Alexis Sanchez leading the line.
Olivier Giroud’s inconsistent play was one of the reasons why Arsenal failed to win the Premier League last season. The Frenchman was outstanding in the first half of the campaign, but his 15-game drought after Christmas proved to be one of the decisive flaws in their bid to end their title drought.
The 30-year-old has to support Sanchez in attack to ease the pressure on the Chilean, while avoiding incidents like the one that saw him dismissed in his side’s opener against Paris Saint-Germain. Wenger resisted the temptation to sign an experienced striker in the summer so the onus will be on Giroud to deliver for his manager, along with his attacking team-mates.
Arsenal’s strength remains in the middle of the park where the return to fitness of Santi Cazorla and the signing of Granit Xhaka has provided further creativity and steel to the team. Aaron Ramsey has been ruled out due to injury, while Mesut Ozil has yet to reach his peak form this term, meaning that Wenger’s men will only get more production from central areas over the coming months.
The Gunners’ biggest worry has always been their defence, although they made an attempt to solve their issues with the addition of Shkodran Mustafi. He has developed a good rapport with Laurent Koscielny thus far, shutting out Chelsea and Basel at the Emirates. Should the duo continue to thrive together then the club may have an opportunity to end their stretch of failures in the first knockout phase and make a run towards the latter phases of the competition.