By Niall Clarke
- The UEFA champions league action continues Wednesday
- Chelsea host Maccabi Tel Aviv; Arsenal travel to Dinamo Zagreb
Chelsea and Arsenal will begin their UEFA Champions League tournament on Wednesday, as London looks to tackle the greatest club competition on Earth.
They are the remaining two English clubs to begin their campaign after both Manchester clubs started with 2-1 defeats on Tuesday.
Chelsea vs Maccabi Tel Aviv
Chelsea must be feeling the blues after a disastrous start to the campaign that leaves them lying 17th in the table after five games. However, most Blues fans will say that the priority is the Champions League, which is the only major trophy that Jose Mourinho has failed to win as Chelsea boss.
They have been drawn a relatively safe group with Porto, Dynamo Kiev and Wednesday’s opponents Maccabi Tel Aviv, and Mourinho is confident that his side can turn their fortunes around in the Champions League.
Mourinho revealed new signing Baba Rahman would make his Chelsea debut against the Israelis, while midfielder Oscar would also feature at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night. Falcao is expected to miss the match due to injury. Thibaut Courtois is also out long term after undergoing knee surgery.
Maccabi came through qualifying to enter the group stage of the tournament, defeating Basel via away goals in a 3-3 aggregate draw. The Israeli’s will be without right-back Elazar Dasa who is serving a suspension. Captain Eran Zahavi, who scored seven goals in the qualifying rounds, will also start and will be the main threat to the so far poor defensive line of Chelsea/
As the fourth pot club from the Israeli league, they are expected to be the whipping boys of the group- if only it was that simple.
Many of these thoughts were echoed eight years ago when Chelsea slumped to a 1-1 draw with Rosenberg after a poor start domestically. That night was Mourinho’s last game in charge of the Blues in his first stint as manager, and this has similar parallels to that night on 17th September 2007, albeit there are no indications of a relationship strain with Roman Abramovich.
Dinamo Zagreb vs Arsenal
The Gunners have been one of the constants in the last 16 stage, but they have failed to make it past that stage for five years. With the arrival of Petr Cech to strengthen the back line, Gooners think this could be the year they break that duck.
Arsenal face stern away test to Croatian champions Dinamo Zagreb in their opening game, who are on a 41 game unbeaten streak. Jack Wilshere is out to have surgery on a broken leg, whilst Per Mertesacker is also expected to miss the game after being involved in a minor road accident on Monday. Danny Welbeck will also miss the trip.
The trip to Zagreb will be a hostile one with the rowdy Balkan crowd. They will be without Goncalo Santos due to suspension as they try overcome their 15 match winless streak in the Champions League that spans 16 years.
Wenger is keen to avoid any slip-ups in his side’s opening two games before the mouth-watering showdown with Bayern Munich in October.
“It is important we go to Zagreb highly focused and conscious at what is at stake there,” Wenger told his club’s official website. “You can be quickly out of the Champions League and we want to start well and we know we have a battle first to qualify with Bayern Munich [in the group].
“You need to find the balance between urgency and confidence and at times that is difficult as you can quickly be too confident and lose your urgency.
“We have Olympiacos and Zagreb first and we have to finish above them and the result will come down to that. I think it is important to start well because the hunger of a team is shown as well in how well you go in every competition.”
Fixtures for the 16th September
All kick off times are 19:45 BST unless stated
Chelsea vs M. Tel-Aviv
Dinamo Zagreb vs Arsenal
Bayer Leverkusen vs BATE Borisov
Dynamo Kyiv vs FC Porto
Valencia vs Zenit St Petersburg
Olympiacos vs Bayern Munich
Roma vs Barcelona
Gent vs Lyon
Chelsea are Arsenal will kick off at 19:45 BST Wednesday night