Three English clubs top their groups going into the fifth round of Champions' League games this week and Liverpool are second only on goal difference, but Arsenal's Arsène Wenger believes the Premier League representatives will not dominate the competition as comprehensively as in the recent past. The huge television screen at his home in Totteridge has shown impressive performances from unbeaten teams such as Barcelona, Jose Mourinho's Internazionale, Lyon, Bayern Munich and Juventus (the latter having defeated Real Madrid home and away).
It did not escape Wenger's notice that in the last round, played immediately after every English club had faced three League games in eight days, Chelsea lost to Roma while Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United all drew. "After last year and the year before and the first three games this year, everybody thought we will just turn up and qualify," he said. "Suddenly in the fourth game nobody won. That just shows you that the difference with the other teams is not as big as you could have imagined. The standard is always improving. The Eastern European countries have a lot of money and the world market is massive. You find a good player in the north of Brazil somewhere behind a wall. But everyone can find them."
After Manchester City yesterday, Arsenal face what Wenger calls a "vital week" in two competitions, with Dynamo Kiev at the Emirates on Tuesday and a local derby away to Chelsea next Sunday. It required a late equaliser by William Gallas to earn a draw in Kiev in September, and Porto, by snatching a last-minute win in Kiev, have turned Group G into a three-horse race.
"A good team is a team that has an answer for everything they face," Wenger added. "Because we are very young in midfield and up front, we can learn very quickly, but we have not much time to learn."
Champions' League matches
Aalborg (2pts) v Celtic (2pts)
Despite a goalless draw at Parkhead, Aalborg – where Manchester United were comfortable 3-0 winners – is surely the place for Scotland's champions to record that elusive first away win in the competition at the 20th attempt. Doing so should earn them a Uefa Cup place.
Arsenal (8pts) v Dynamo Kiev (5pts)
What to expect from Arsène Wenger's young bloods these days? A 5-2 win away to Fenerbahce, then a 0-0 draw at home, summed up their recent unpredictability. Victory here is desirable to stay ahead of Porto (6pts) before playing away to them in the final game.
Villarreal (8pts) v Manchester Utd (8pts)
Effectively through to the knockout stage, United will want at least a score-draw here to stay ahead of the Spaniards and improve their prospects of winning the group. Robert Pires's team looked useful in the goalless draw at Old Trafford.
Bordeaux (6pts) v Chelsea (7pts)
Chelsea's unexpected 3-1 defeat by Roma has left them vulnerable to both the Italians (6pts) and Bordeaux, who looked feeble in losing 4-0 at Stamford Bridge back in September but have picked up since then with a double over the Romanians Cluj (4pts).
Liverpool (8pts) v Marseille (3pts)
Steven Gerrard's fitness for this game will be a matter of some interest. It took Gerrard's fortunate penalty to give Liverpool a draw at home to Atletico Madrid, and goal difference could now decide which of them win Group D.
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