Arsenal, as short as 1.20 with Boylesports to progress to the last 16 in first place from Group H, appear genuine contenders for the Champions League this season and the London club may just be able to end a four year spell without a trophy in style.
Arsenal should have the minimum of fuss in qualifying with ease and they have started the season in fine style despite recent defeats to Manchester United and Manchester City. They were unlucky to emerge second best on both occasions but have often looked more comfortable with the demands of European football and this just may be their year.
Providing key men, in particular captain Cesc Fabrgeas, remain fit Wenger will once again be eyeing at least the last four and he has seen his side make the second round on every occasion since 2002. >
I’ll be gobsmacked if that run comes to an end in 2009 and with the likes of Robin van Persie, Andriy Arshavin and Tomas Rosicky, who could enjoy a fruitful season, in their ranks the Gunners are a match for anybody on their day.
In behind Arsenal it looks wide open for second spot with AZ Alkmaar narrowly favoured by most of the odds compilers.
Ronald Koeman’s men, 2.25 with Sportingbet to qualify, will rely on Moroccan striker Mounir El Hamdaoui for goals and it mustn’t be forgotten that they enter the tournament as Dutch champions at the expense of the likes of Ajax and PSV Eindhoven. Netherlands international and captain Stijn Schaars is one to keep an eye on while the wonderfully named Maarten Martens should also be amongst the goals. >
With Olympiacos seemingly in disarray following the sacking of head coach Temuri Ketsbaia on Tuesday, AZ’s sternest challenge could well come from Belgian champions Standard Liege although Laszlo Boloni’s side will have to cope without the services of the influential Steven Defour for the group stages.
Defour, a highly talented midfielder, has a broken ankle but Liege have produced a number of promising players in recent season and should manage OK even with their captain on the sidelines.
Striker Milan Jovanovic is a bright prospect and it shouldn’t be forgotten just how well they performed in the UEFA Cup last season when topping a very strong looking group that included both Sevilla and Stuttgart.
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