CL Preview: Dynamo Kiev - Arsenal
But come the Champions League and suddenly Arsenal are transformed, in the eyes of advocates of ‘balance’ within Europe’s top competition, from victims to bullies with an unfair advantage, from paupers to one of a presumed super-rich elite...
Paupers Or Princes?
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger can be permitted a wry smile and a shrug of the shoulders as he takes his squad to Ukraine to embark on their 11th consecutive Champions League Group Stage campaign, according to www.goal.com. Throughout the summer he has been told by critics near and far that Arsenal are being left behind by the other members of the Premier League‘s ‘Big Four’ - plus the likes of Manchester City, Tottenham and Aston Villa - because of his and the board’s perceived penny-pinching ways and refusal to jump aboard the League’s big-spending bandwagon. Worse, he is accused of allowing Arsenal to become a selling club, a mere nursery for the bigger, wealthier, more glamorous predators on the continent.
But come the Champions League and suddenly Arsenal are transformed, in the eyes of advocates of ‘balance’ within Europe’s top competition, from victims to bullies with an unfair advantage, from paupers to one of a presumed super-rich elite.
Thus on the eve of this week’s first stop on the gravy train that sets off on its nine-month journey to Rome, there is Emilio Butragueno, the highly respected former Real Madrid goal machine and sporting director, warning via BBC Sport that “We have to be very careful. English teams are becoming more powerful….
“In the last two seasons there have been three English teams in the Champions League semi-finals. That gives us an idea about the power.
“On paper they have many chances to be contenders again [with holders Manchester United, finalists Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal all in the last 32] but I don`t want to see they are going to be the favourites once again… You need uncertainty at the core of every competition.”
Now, I think Butragueno may have a valid point about three of the four English clubs, but any Arsenal fan reading his comments will be struck by the irony of a spokesman for Real Madrid, who have publicly coveted the likes of Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry and Cesc Fabregas summer after summer, with the presumption that their wealth and glamour as a club will prove irresistible, effectively warning that the Gunners are becoming a threat to the competitive integrity of the Champions League.
The point about Arsenal, and it’s a distinction that deserves to be made, is that they have been punching above their weight, with a fair degree of success, both domestically and in Europe, in competition with many clubs who do not run their businesses on the same ‘prudent‘ model of youth development augmented by judicious, relatively low-priced purchases in the transfer market.
Poor Record In Ukraine
It is that model that Wenger is again relying on as his young Arsenal squad prepare for their latest assignment in Ukraine. That is not a country that holds any fond memories for the Gunners, something Dynamo coach Yuri Semin will no doubt be reminding his players about.
Dynamo were in Arsenal’s group in the Londoners` first appearance in the Champions League in 1998-99. The Gunners, playing their home European games during that and the following season at the (old) Wembley Stadium, were held to a draw when Sergei Rebrov hit a 90th minute equaliser to cancel out Dennis Bergkamp’s 74th minute opener. In the return in Kiev two weeks later, it was a more one-sided affair, Rebrov netting from the spot and Golovko and Andriy Shevchenko adding further goals. Stephen Hughes’ 84th minute riposte was a mere consolation, and the Gunners failed to progress beyond their group, while Kiev went all the way to the semi-finals, where they were beaten 3-4 on aggregate by Bayern Munich, who lost in the final to Manchester United.
Arsenal’s next brush with Ukrainian football came in the 2000-01 campaign, when they were in the same group as Shakhtar Donetsk. The Gunners trailed 2-0 at Highbury before Sylvain Wiltord and, remarkably, Martin Keown’s rare brace gave them a late 3-2 win. When they flew out to Ukraine they were again comprehensively beaten, 3-0, though by then they’d qualified for the second group phase.
In 2003-04, Dynamo Kiev hosted Arsenal in Group B and beat the Gunners 2-1. Maksim Shatskikh and Valentin Belkevich put them comfortably ahead before Thierry Henry reduced the deficit ten minutes from time. In the return at Highbury, the Gunners needed to win to avoid an early elimination and got one thanks to Ashley Cole’s 88th minute diving header. The Gunners finished top, and Kiev bottom, of Group B, but Arsenal’s involvement was ended by Chelsea in the quarter-finals that season.
Comfortable In The Qualifiers
As the teams prepare to face each other again at this level, both have had to overcome qualifying hurdles to take their places in Group G, Dynamo having finished second in the Ukrainian Premier League last season, while Arsenal were third in the English Premier League. In the second qualifying round, Dynamo edged through against Irish side Drogheda United, winning the away leg 2-1 with an 86th-minute Olexandr Aliyev strike before being held 2-2 in the home leg - when Aliyev was again on target and Artem Milevskiy converted a penalty.
However, in the third round qualifier, it was altogether more convincing, Dynamo crushing Spartak Moscow 8-2 on aggregate thanks to 4-1 victories in both legs. In Moscow, Ismael Bangoura and Milevskiy both netted twice, and back in Kiev Aliyev opening the scoring before Bangoura and Milevskiy (with two) completed the rout.
Arsenal were also impressive over the two legs of their third round qualifier, particularly the second leg at the Emirates. Paired against ex-England manager Steve McClaren’s FC Twente, the Gunners were made to toil for their 2-0 success in Arnhem, which came via goals from skipper William Gallas and striker Emmanuel Adebayor. In the return, it was one-way traffic as Arsenal cruised to a stylish 4-0 win, with Samir Nasri, Gallas, Theo Walcott and Nicklas Bendtner getting the goals.
Last Season’s Frustrations
So far so good, then, for two teams who both felt they could and should have done better in last season’s Champions League. Arsenal, beaten finalists in 2006, were good value in the Group Stage, sweeping Sevilla aside 3-0 at home and then blitzing Slavia Prague 7-0. Sevilla beat them in the return but they progressed to the knock-out stage and put on a master class at the San Siro to defeat holders AC Milan 2-0. That set-up a quarter-final against Premier League rivals Liverpool, and the Gunners felt aggrieved when Alexander Hleb was denied what looked a clear penalty at the Emirates, where the game finished 1-1. At Anfield, the Gunners played some scintillating stuff but, immediately after equalising to make it 2-2, gave away a contentious penalty and lost the game 4-2 and the tie 5-3.
Meanwhile, Dynamo Kiev’s interest had ended much earlier. They produced a thoroughly disappointing showing in the Group Stage, failing to earn a solitary point from their six games and conceding 19 goals to finish with the worst record of any of the 32 teams. Along the way they underwent two changes of coach, former Arsenal defender Oleg Luzhny replacing Joszef Szabo, who had himself replaced Anatoliy Demianenko after Matchday 1. Now current coach Semin, assisted by Luzhny, will be looking to get off to a winning start against the Gunners, with FC Porto and Fenerbahce also to come in this Group for both clubs.
However, Semin was coach of Lokomotiov Moscow when they met Arsenal in 2003-04 Champions League Group Stage, and the Frenchman came off best. The first game in Russia was a goalless draw and Arsenal won 2-0 at Highbury in their final game of the Group, which they topped.
Ahead of this game, Wenger said: "For me, Dynamo Kiev is a bit of an unknown quantity. They look like they always have the best players around their region, so it really depends on the quality of the generation they have at the moment. But they can be a very dangerous side. We know that because we played them when they had Shevchenko, Rebrov and Luzhny and they were a very, very difficult side."
Kiev coach Semin said of Adebayor: "We knew very well prior to this [his hat-trick on Saturday at Blackburn] the capabilities of the Arsenal forward. But we will not be putting a man-marker on him. Adebayor plays all over the pitch, and in every zone there will be one of our players to meet him."
Both teams go into Wednesday’s clash on the back of emphatic away wins in their domestic football. Dynamo Kiev beat second division FC Olkom Melitopil 5-0 away on Saturday in the Ukrainian Cup thanks to goals from 18-year-old Andriy Yarmolenko (2), Malkhaz Asatiani, Kravets and a Shudryk own goal.
Ex-Gunner Luzhny was in charge of the team as Semin was in England watching Arsenal beat Blackburn Rovers 4-0 at Ewood Park, where Robin Van Persie gave the Gunners an early lead and Adebayor contributed a hat-trick (including a successfully converted penalty).
Wenger said of his team’s win: "It was a good defensive performance – we scored four goals and you`d think it was all Arsenal but Blackburn played very well and they were always dangerous going forward. We had to defend very well, especially from crosses. The second goal just before half-time was a big moment and after that the third and fourth goals came logically. Fluency is one of our strengths, to be clinical was important today – we`ve found our rhythm. We have a very young squad but very talented and they all enjoy playing the game we play."
Dynamo began their season with a penalty shoot-out defeat by Shakhtar Donetsk in the Ukrainian Super Cup, but prior to the international break had gathered 16 points out of a possible 21 in the league; their only defeat was at home to Metalist Kharkiv on 2nd August (1-2). They currently lie in second place, two points behind leaders Metalurh Donetsk - whom they beat 1-0 at the end of August.
Arsenal have won three and lost one of their Premier League games to date, scoring eight goals, conceding one and lying in third place with nine points, one fewer than Chelsea and Liverpool. In fact the Gunners have won all but one of their last ten matches in all competitions. The exception was a 0-1 defeat at Fulham on 23rd August.
09 Aug v Vorskla Poltava (A) DREW 2-2 (League)
17 Aug v Metalurh Zaporozhe (H) WON 2-0 (League)
23 Aug v Arsenal Kyiv (A) WON 2-0 (League)
31 Aug v Metalurh Donetsk (H) WON 1-0 (League)
13 Sep v Olkom (A) WON 5-0 (Cup)
16 Aug v West Brom (H) WON 1-0 (League)
23 Aug v Fulham (A) LOST 0-1
26 Aug v FC Twente (H) WON 4-0 (CL)
30 Aug v Newcastle United (H) WON 3-0 (League)
13 Sep v Blackburn Rovers (A) WON 4-0 (League)
Carlos Corrêa (broken leg) and Artem Moleskin (ankle) are both back in training after their respective injuries, but Oleg Gusev (knee) remains sidelined. El Kaddouri serves a one-game suspension.
Full Squad List
Goalkeepers: Olexandr Shovkovskiy, Stanislav Bogush, Olexandr Rybka, Kychak Artem
Defenders: Oleg Dopilka, Betão, Goran Sabljić, Carlos Corrêa, Pape Diakhate, Olexandr Romanchuk, Andriy Nesmachniy, Malkhaz Asatiani
Midfielders: Tiberiu Ghioane, Ognjen Vukojević, Morozyuk Mykola, Roman Yeremenko, Taras Mikhalik, Florin Cernat, Oleg Gusev, Badr El Kaddouri, Miloš Ninković, Ayila Yussuf, Roman Zozulya
Forwards: Olexandr Aliyev, Ismaël Bangoura, Maksim Shatskikh, Artem Kravets, Artem Milevskiy, Emmanuel Okoduwa, Andriy Yarmolenko
Possible Starting XI: Bogush, Ninković, Nesmachniy, Diakhate, Betão, Yussuf, Vukojević, Aliyev, Mikhalik, Milevskiy, Bangoura.
Midfielder Samir Nasri misses out with an ankle injury, and Mikael Silvestre`s Arsenal debut is also delayed. Gael Clichy and Emmanuel Eboue picked up knocks against Blackburn but were passed fit to travel. Abou Diaby, Eduardo and Tomas Rosicky remain long-term injury absentees.
Full Squad List:
Goalkeepers: Manuel Almunia, Łukasz Fabiański, Vito Mannone, Wojciech Szczęsny
Defenders: Bacary Sagna, Kolo Touré, William Gallas, Mikaël Silvestre, Johan Djourou, Gaël Clichy, Emmanuel Eboué, Kyle Bartley, Thomas Cruise, Jay Thomas, Gavin Hoyte, Abu Ogogo, Paul Rodgers, Rene Steer
Midfielders: Abou Diaby, Cesc Fàbregas, Tomáš Rosický, Samir Nasri, Denilson, Aaron Ramsey, Alexandre Song, Jack Wilshere, Francis Coquelin, James Dunne, Kieran Gibbs, Henri Lansbury, Fran Mérida, Mark Randall
Forwards: Eduardo, Robin van Persie, Carlos Vela, Theo Walcott, Emmanuel Adebayor, Nicklas Bendtner, Rui Fonte, Rhys Murphy, Jay Simpson, Sanchez Watt
18-Man Squad that travelled to Kiev: Manuel Almunia (GK), Bacary Sagna, Cesc Fabregas, Kolo Toure, William Gallas, Robin van Persie, Carlos Vela, Theo Walcott, Denilson, Aaron Ramsey, Alex Song, Jack Wilshere, Johan Djourou, Lukasz Fabianski (GK), Gael Clichy, Emmanuel Adebayor, Nicklas Bendtner, Emmanuel Eboue.
Possible Starting XI: Almunia, Sagna, Toure, Gallas, Clichy, Eboue, Denilson, Fabregas, Walcott, Adebayor Van Persie.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Artem Milevskiy is Dynamo`s leading scorer with ten goals, including a brace in each leg of their Champions League third qualifying round tie against Spartak Moscow. He was voted the Ukrainian Premier League`s best player for July and August in a poll of the League’s players and coaches.
Denilson has enjoyed a good start to the season in the position vacated by Mathieu Flamini, combining well with Cesc Fabregas in central midfield. How the pair gel against Dynamo could have a significant bearing on the outcome of the tie, especially if they can supply ammunition for the front players.
Dynamo are in a good vein of form and are at home, so the advantage is with them, But Arsenal are also in an impressive run and scoring plenty of goals while conceding none in their last three games. It will be a stern test of Wenger’s young side’s temperament and credentials, but they could buck the trend of recent club history by emerging from Ukraine with three points from a narrow victory.
Dynamo Kiev 0-1 Arsenal
By Graham Lister, www.goal.com.