The Champions League group stage is set and Arsenal in Group F find themselves in the company of L'OM, Olympiakos, and Borussia Dortmund. Not an easy group because we play a storied French side that has turned things around, the Greek league champions, and the giant killing Bundesliga champions. Man Utd are smiling all the way to the knock out stage with their draw.
The laser like focus is on the clash with Marseilles because lets face it is a club familiar to Arsene Wenger from his days at AS Monaco and the group stage will renew those hostilities. There has been no love lost either with Arsenal spiriting away Samir Nasri in a manner similar to City. Mathieu Flamini is another association and his arrival at Arsenal was not quite amicable. L'OM is managed by Didier Deschamps who in his first year achieved the Championnat and ended an 18 year drought. There will be inevitable comparisons to Wenger and his early success in the Premiership.
The more prescient comparison is to Borussia Dortmund and their young coach Juergen Klopp who at 44 years of age engineered a no name youth squad into one of the Bundesliga's most potent attacking forces. He joined in 2008 and under him the Borussians lifted themselves from 13th to 6th in 2009. In 2010 they improved to fifth and set themselves on course for their ground breaking 2011 championship season.
Their midfield is loaded with talent and the name Mario Götze is bandied about with relish amongst supporters. He's just 19 years and at this tender age has sparked the same sort of excitement reserved for Mesut Oezil. The DFB technical director, Matthias Sammer hailed him as one of the best German talents.
"He's an exceptional player, has good speed, is extremely creative, and has outstanding technical skills."
Gotze got his call into Dortmund's senior squad last season after an injury sidelined Japanese playmaker Shinji Kagawa who at 22 years reminds one of Shunsuke Nakamura in his prime with his set piece prowess and skillful passing. Dortmund was in danger of losing momentum in his absence and Klopp turned to Gotze from the reserves.
The 18 year old sparked Borussia with his 15 assists and 6 goals in his first complete season. In comparison, Cesc Fabregas took three seasons to come up with comparable numbers. Gotze and 19 year old Nuri Sahin formed a fruitful association with strikers Kevin Grosskreutz, Robert Lewandowski, and Lucas Barrios which yielded 44 goals. Sahin was adjudged best Bundesliga player by Kicker magazine with Gotze coming second. Real immediately targeted Sahin as a transfer and the German born Turk recently completed his induction as a Blanco.
Klopp wasted no time signing VfL Bochum's 20 year old, Ilkay Gundogan, set to step into Sahin's shoes. Club Brugge's Ivan Perisic who was the Jupiter League's top scorer in 2010-2011 with his 22 goals became another summer acquisition. At £4.8m he became Klopp's most expensive signing. In comparison, Arshavin at £15m is Wenger's most exorbitant purchase.
Connecting the backfield with the attacking midfield is Sven Bender, the 22 years old international prospect who filled captain Sebastian Kehl's shoes admirably after yet another injury kept the former Mannschaft representative out for five months in the winter.
Bender was the lynchpin in the Dortmund's watertight defense like their attacking counterparts wear the fresh bloom of youth. In 22 year old Mats Hummels, the Borussians have found their next Christoph Metzelder and his partnership with Neven Subotic, the 22 year old US emigre, proved seminal in forming the thriftiest defense in the league. Subotic still maintains a cult following in Sam's Army even after his disappointing switch to Serbian allegiance. Marcel Schmelzer and Łukasz Piszczek, the full backs, maintain that youthful distinction while turning in their best performances last season.
Klopp's U23 band of youthful interlocutors have done exactly what Arsene Wenger had promised to do with his 2005 template. Since then it's been the story of this year being different from the last year while remaining almost the same. The average age of the Arsenal squad is 23 years while Borussia's is 24 years. The difference in a year is more than made up by their grasp of a title that has so fare eluded Wenger's revolution. As the CL group stage draws near.