Arsenal face uphill battle in Champions League


Arsenal's Olivier Giroud, left, and Bayern Munich's David Alaba. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP)

The 2015-16 UEFA Champions League resumes this week with Matchday 6 of the group stage.

Sportsnet’s soccer panel of broadcasters, writers and pundits offer their picks and predictions below…

Gerry Dobson, Sportsnet: Injuries, injuries, injuries. Nobody has been hit as hard as Arsenal this year. It’s really a revolving door of players coming into the lineup on recovery and heading out just injured. Somehow they managed to pull it together with a makeshift team to defeat Sunderland on the weekend. The latest bad news has Santi Cazorla on the sidelines until March, but manager Arsene Wenger liked what he saw with a new formation vs. Sunderland. The fact that it stopped a three-game winless streak doesn’t hurt the confidence level either.

So now they have to go to Greece and knock Olympiacos off their perch. Speaking of confidence, the Greek champions should be bursting with it, having defeated Arsenal in London earlier in the group stage. And it can’t be just a run of the mill victory for Arsenal either. The Gunners have to win by at least two goals on Wednesday, or a single goal victory with a much higher score line in order to advance to the knockout round. It’s a tall order.

Prediction: Arsenal wins 3-1.

Dan Riccio, Sportsnet 590 The FAN: It’s funny how AS Roma can look so good, and then take a massive dip in form. They’ve almost become the Arsenal of Italy—always the bridesmaid and never the bride. It looks like things are going that way again domestically—they’re winless in four of their last five Serie A matches—and a missed trip to the last 16 of the Champions League could be on its way as well. Let’s remember, though, this team is much more talented than BATE. This should be a win at home, easily. Anything less and it could very well cost Rudi Garcia his job as manager.

Prediction: AS Roma wins 2-0.

John Molinaro, While this is a meaningless game for Lyon (with one point, they’ve been knocked out of Europe altogether) Valencia still has hopes of qualifying for the round of 16. They need a win, but even that might not be enough to overtake Belgian side Gent, who host Russian outfit Zenit Saint Petersburg.

Wednesday’s game marks the managerial debut of Gary Neville, who took over the reins at Los Che last week. The Englishman faces a daunting task in his first outing as manager as failure to reach the knockout round would be viewed as a major failure for a club the size of Valencia. “We all know Wednesday’s game is one that will define our lives,” Valencia midfielder Danilo Barbosa said. So, no pressure then.

Valencia is coming off a morale-boosting 1-1 draw at home vs. Barcelona on the weekend, and considering Lyon has nothing to play for, you have to give the edge to Valencia.

Prediction: Valencia wins 2-0

More on UEFA Champions League: Sportsnet soccer panel’s pick and predictions || Man United fans, LVG and The War of Attrition || Nevilles riding populist wave at Valencia for now || Analytics: Asymmetry vs. symmetry in team shape

James Sharman, Sportsnet : Do you remember Manchester United’s last Champions League outing? I have tried to forget about it—it was an utterly dismal scoreless draw with PSV. What it did do manage to create, however, is some drama on this final matchday. United sits one point behind their German opponents at the top of the table, and one point above PSV and that oh so alluring Europa League spot. That makes United’s task on Tuesday pretty simple: win and they’re in to the knockout round. Anything less and United must hope that CSKA can shock PSV.

United’s goal output is the big story this season, with only five from five games in the group stage—only six teams have worse offensive records, and they all sit dead last in their groups. Luis Van Gaal admits this team is not good enough to win the Champions League, which will boost his fragile charges’ confidence no end. United also has several injury concerns, including Wayne Rooney and Morgan Schneiderlin. Wolfsburg have only scored one more goal than United, so I suspect this one will be tight.

Prediction: A 1-1 draw.

Thomas Michalakos, With a place in the knockout round at stake, PSV must put a near perfect performance at the Philips Stadion on Tuesday. Everything hinges on a victory—a draw won’t be enough, as that would see them drop down to the Europa League. CSKA could play spoiler and finish third—having won the reverse encounter 3-2—but their fate was virtually sealed in the 2-0 defeat to Wolfsburg on Matchday 5 in Russia. Confidence is at an all-time high for Phillip Cocu’s side—currently in the middle of a nine-match unbeaten run in all competitions. The opportunity to make this a special night in Eindhoven is within reach for the reigning Dutch champions.

Prediction: PSV Eindhoven wins 3-1.

John Molinaro, Juventus has already clinched a berth in the round of 16, and Sevilla has already been eliminated. Still, there’s plenty at stake for both clubs. Juventus sits atop the group with a two-point lead over Manchester City, who have also moved on to the next round. A win or draw in Spain would see the Italians clinch top spot—and thus avoid other first-place teams—including Barcelona and Bayern Munich—in the next round.

Sevilla is bottom of the group, two points behind Borussia Monchengladbach. A victory over the Italians could propel them into third place and a spot in the Europa League, provided Manchester City beats the Germans on Tuesday.

Juventus is in great form, unbeaten in seven matches in all competitions (with six wins), and they’ve posted four consecutive clean sheets. Sevilla, too, has been impressive of late, winning five of the last six home games in all competitions, including victories against Real Madrid and Barcelona. Juventus striker Mario Mandzukic will miss the game due to flu, but Paolo Dybala has been excellent for the Bianconeri this season, so the Croatian will hardly be missed.

Prediction: Juventus wins 1-0.

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