2304: Champions League preview: Arse
by : Chris Sherrard
Giampaolo Pazzini (Fiorentina)Amidst all the publicity generated by Fiorentina’s purchase of 19 year-old Bulgarian starlet Valeri Bojinov last January, the fact that the Viola had also signed one of the most promising Italian strikers went largely unnoticed.
Giampaolo Pazzini signed from Atalanta just days after scoring a hat-trick against Juventus in the Coppa Italia. Given the bitter rivalry that exists between Fiorentina and the Italian champions that in itself was enough to convince the fans of his merits.
Still, for Pazzini joining Fiorentina was a step into the unknown. He had come through the ranks at Atalanata, undoubtedly the club with the best youth set-up in Italy, scoring nine times in their promotion season two years back. The Serie A, however, proved to be a different story. Two goals for Atalanta and a similar tally for Fiorentina was a poor return, with poor finishing often doing good work in the build up.
Yet Pazzini has the talent to succeed and already this season he is making more headway. Over the summer, the elegant forward has added more consistency to his game and the end product is getting better. In the latest round of the Coppa Italia at Cesena, Pazzini came off the bench to score the winner.
And he could finally be getting out of Bojinov’s shadow, with new coach Cesare Prandelli hinting that the Italian might even start the season as Luca Toni’s partner up front.
Andrea Mantovani (Chievo Verona)The fallout from Torino’s financial difficulties has hit the club hard. Not only have they seen the dream of the Serie A being snatched away they’ve also had to face up to losing most of their players.
Andrea Mantovani was one of the most reluctant to go. He had come through the ranks and supported the club to play a prominent role in their promotion season. Yet the 21 year-old central defender realised that he couldn’t afford to stay with Torino in the Serie B, particularly with their future looking increasingly uncertain.
So, when the opportunity to join Chievo Verona came up, he promptly accepted. Last year the Veronese club endured its most difficult season since promotion to the Serie A four years back. But their reputation for giving young talent a chance evidently appealed to Mantovani.
It won’t be his first experience in the top flight. Three years ago he played eight times for Torino in their last appearance in the Serie A. Since then, Mantovani forced himself in the highly successful Italian Under 21 national team that is on course for another European title. With Marcello Lippi willing to give every player a chance, a good season with Verona could even win Mantovani a trip to Germany next summer.
8 September 2005
The thing about Arsenal and Europe is they don’t seem to mix all that well.
Which is a surprise given the fact their manager is one of the continent’s finest coaches and has been for almost a decade now.
And on top of that his players are all top notch Europeans who have been around the game at the highest level, by and large, in various other leagues around Europe before taking up residence at Highbury.
But for all their efforts and determined, concerted attempts, Arsenal have always come up short in the Champions League.
It arguably drove Patrick Vieira into the arms of someone new (although a suitcase of finest Italiano dough may have also had something to do with it) and it is threatening to undermine Wenger’s fantastic spell as Gunners manager.
Unless he achieves some glory on the European stage, Wenger won’t be fulfilled as Arsenal manager and his critics will have rope to hang him with.
So will this be their season?
Well you’d have to say not. The loss of Vieira has left a gaping hole in the middle of the side and they seem to be lacking leadership.
For all Thierry Henry’s brilliance he isn’t a captain in my eyes. He is one of the finest players in the world, but he won’t rally troops like Keane or Vieira do.
Arsenal look to be still missing that extra something that it takes to go all the way in this competition.
They will have little trouble cruising through this group, though.
Joining them in Group B are Dutch giants Ajax, Czech challengers Sparta Prague and Swiss no-hopers FC Thun.
If Arsenal do not top this group with 15 points or more then there is something seriously wrong.
Ajax are no longer the team which illuminated European football. They aren’t even the team which ran the show in the Netherlands.
Danny Blind is struggling to re-establish the Amsterdam club as a force in their homeland and that will take precedence over any Champions League aspirations.
Sparta Prague qualify as champions of the Czech league but they have been forced to release a number of players over the summer and that is not going to help their cause here.
Thun, meanwhile, were playing in the Swiss equivalent of League One not so long ago and the leap to Champions League is admirable but sure to be one too far.
Arsenal always seem to be able to qualify from these groups without too much trauma and I would expect that to be the same case this season.
But in terms of actually winning the competition, they will need to flex their muscles and utilise the brilliance of Henry well beyond this group.
Two to qualify: Arsenal and Ajax.
One to fear: Wesley Sneijder (Ajax)
11 September 2005