What a great start to Champions League football we have been treated to so far this season. Many worried that the group stages were becoming predictable – with the top teams qualifying in first gear throughout. This season there have been shocks. F.C Basel went to Rome last night and won 3-1. Barcelona and Manchester United are not having it their own way, whilst AC Milan are struggling to replicate their domestic form.
The exception to this has been Arsenal and Chelsea. What a fantastic example they have been for England so far. Both London clubs have swept aside the three teams in their group with attacking intent, pace and style. Chelsea destroyed French Ligue1 champions Marseilles, whilst Arsenal have scored a record 14 goals in three Champions League games At this stage they have been the two best sides by a mile and without doubt have to be considered genuine contenders for the final at Wembley.
To deal with Arsenal first. Of course Arsenal will always be considered a dangerous team in the competition and a side that could win it. However, after the way in which Arsenal have torn decent sides apart this season, they have become one of the most feared sides in the competition. Winning in Europe has always centred around a strong central midfield partnership. Cesc Fabregas and Jack Wilshere could forge a formidable partnership at the heart of Arsenal’s midfield. Last night for example the two were formidable and made the Ukrainians look ordinary, and if they had wanted, easily could have moved out of second gear. The destruction of Braga as well – a side that knocked Sevilla out in the qualifying round. Arsenal were imperious, imposing their values and their game onto the Portuguese side. They had no idea how to deal with it, to stand off or press was the dilemma and in fairness Arsenal didn’t allow them to decide which.
Arsenal themselves are confident they can progress all the way in the competition. French defender Jonathan Djourou stated “I think the result shows that Arsenal is ready to go as far as possible in the Champions League. It’s early but it shows people that we can do well in the competition.”
Chelsea as well have been fantastic to watch in the competition. In all three games we have seen what Chelsea are all about. In all three games Chelsea have started bright, looking to get on the front foot. Where most European teams will look to keep the ball for the first five minutes Chelsea are playing for territory, looking to exploit any early nerves of their opponents. Its great to watch, as well as this its great to see Chelsea playing on the front foot and looking to push past one or two nil.
Chelsea have been at a cross roads in Europe for some time now. Chelsea in 2008 were a penalty kick away from winning the tournament. In 2009, if Gerard Pique hadn’t played goal keeper and Tom Henning Ovrebo played clown, Chelsea would have been in the final – a re match with Manchester United. In 2010, a master class from Internazionale’s Wesley Sneijder was the real difference between the two sides.
Lets be fair Chelsea have had some serious bad luck in this competition. Some of the referring decisions against Barcelona were ridiculous, laughable at times. Chelsea are now in a great position to take the crown. Most fans wanted the Premiership back last season and the team duly delivered. With Chelsea now champions of England, they can push on and look to win the competition that their fans and ownership crave.
Arsenal and Chelsea are England’s best hope for success in the competition this season. The way they have approached the Champions League this season has been refreshing and a credit to English football. Both will face tougher tests, but if they play in this vein there are very few who could stop them. The worry for Arsenal is that they started last season’s competition in the same vein and were knocked out by Barcelona. It could be in the latter stages of the competition when experience might be downfall of the Arsenal challenge. Without writing any team off so early, my prediction is that Carlo Ancelotti will be lifting the Champions League trophy at Wembley in May.
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