2306: Arsenal vs Thun: Gunners again
by : Stephen Orford
Arsene Wenger and David Dein will be greatly irritated by it, but Arsenal still have to face those pesky minnows in the group stage of the Champions League if they are to finally make their European dream a reality.
This Wednesday (September 14), the Gunners face one of the smallest and most irritating minnows ever to appear in Europe’s big show, when they take on little-known FC Thun of Switzerland at Highbury in Group B.
They will do so without star man Thierry Henry, who will be missing from the Arsenal line-up for up to a month with a groin injury. Henry missed the 2-1 defeat to Middlesbrough on Saturday (September 10) provoking yet more suggestions that Wenger’s men cannot function without the French striker and now club captain. Even so, the likes of Dennis Bergkamp and Jose Antonio Reyes will expect and be expected to provide the goals which will see off the challenge of Thun, who embark on their first ever European campaign this term.
There’s better news for Arsenal at the back, as Sol Campbell is pencilled in for a possible return after a lengthy absence through injury. The former Tottenham man’s presence could, however, be off-set by the fact that German goalkeeper Jens Lehmann is suspended. Lehmann looked to have finally managed to see off the challenge of the hapless Manuel Almunia for the number one shirt, and he will be hopeful that his absence does not spark another goalkeeping controversy.
Should Campbell not make it, Wenger faces a difficult choice between Pacal Cygan and Phillipe Senderos to partner Kolo Toure in the centre of defence. Both have been unconvincing when given their opportunities in the Premiership so far this season, but it might just be that Senderos gets the nod over the much maligned Cygan.
The Swiss side, who have never won their domestic championship and qualified for the Champions League after finishing runners-up last season, have some injury doubts of their own ahead of the clash. Captain Andres Gerber should return from his tendon problem, but defender Armand Deumi has less chance of winning his race for fitness. Their league form is patchy at best at present, as they drew 0-0 in Berne against Young Boys at the weekend. That result leaves them fifth in the Swiss league, three points off the early pace set by FC Basel.
Devoid of any European history, FC Thun will point to their victories over the more lauded Dynamo Kiev and Malmo in qualifying for this stage as examples of the threat they pose. For Champions League experience, they can only point to Gregory Duruz and Nenad Savic, both of whom have turned out for FC Basel in the competition in previous seasons. For their part, Arsenal have a wealth of European experience but have only been paired with Swiss opponents in European competition once before, beating Grasshoppers of Zurich 5-0 over two legs in the 1971/72 European Cup.
All things being equal, which they probably are not given the curious nature of Champions League football over the past two seasons, Arsenal should cruise to a comfortable victory to set them on their way in Group B, which also contains Ajax and Sparta Prague. Henry or not, it would be a massive surprise if Arsene Wenger’s men came away with anything less than three points from this one, especially given the home advantage.
Verdict: Arsenal 3 Thun 0.
13 September 2005