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Champions League 2008/09, Group G

Group G: Arsenal | FC Porto | Fenerbahce | Dynamo Kiev
Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D | Group E | Group F | Group H

Status: 4th in English Premier League
Nickname: The Gunners
UEFA Ranking: 5th

THE RECORD: Champions League runners-up in 2006, they came so close to seeing off Barcelona in the Paris Final and were minutes away from an appearance in the semi-final last season, only to lose out to Liverpool on a dramatic night at Anfield.

Arsenal's record of European success is modest for a club ranked so high by UEFA, with their last success coming in the 1994 European Cup Winners Cup. They also won the Fairs Cup back in 1970.

COACH'S CORNER: Arsene Wenger makes no secret of the fact that the Champions League is the trophy he wants to win more than any other as it is the only void on his hugely impressive managerial record.

'I don't have an obsession to win the Champions League, but it's something we desperately want to bring to the club,' says the highly-respected Frenchman, who also enjoyed a decent Champions League record during his time as Monaco manager. 'Our UEFA ranking proves that we have the consistency and ability to challenge for the trophy and we were within a few minutes of being European champions in 2006. I'm convinced we can win the trophy this season.'

THE STAR TURN: Cesc Fabregas makes this Arsenal team tick and Wenger's most important move of the summer was to ensure the jewel in his crown did not jump from his ship, as Alexander Hleb, Gilberto Silva and Mathieu Flamini decided to do.

This Spanish midfielder confirmed his class with a handful of stunning displays in Euro 2008 and he insists he was never tempted to explore the reported interest in his services from Real Madrid. 'Any player would be tempted to play for a club of that size, but Arsenal is the best place for me and I'm staying to work with Arsene Wenger,' states the brilliant playmaker whose passing ability is second to none.

THE NEW FACE: Samir Nasri is a £12m arrival from Marseille and he was signed to offer the width and skill that Hleb took with him to Barcelona. Wenger likes players with pace and great attacking instincts and he has found his man in the shape of this young French international.

Hailing from Algerian stock, this 21-year-old may lack a touch of experience to truly set the Champions League alight in his first season at Arsenal, but thus is the policy Wenger is determined to stick to. 'We don't buy stars, we make them,' is his regular mantra and Nasri will be hoping to emerge as his next great prodigy.

THE WILD CARD: Togo striker Emmanuel Adebayor did his best to get out of Arsenal during the summer and only decided to commit his future to the North London club when it became clear he would not be securing a move to Barcelona or AC Milan.

Now he claims he is totally committed to the Gunners and never wanted to leave, but it's hard to know whether his heart will truly be at the club after all that has gone before. At his best, this powerhouse forward is a threat to any defence, yet he can go missing when things don't go his way.

YOUNG GUN: Theo Walcott's remarkably rapid rise to the top culminated when the 17-year-old was bizarrely picked for England 2006 World Cup squad, yet he was never ready to mix it with the best then and only time will tell whether he is up to the job now.

The former Southampton trainee showed flashes of brilliance in the Champions League last season and his sparkling burst against Liverpool set up the goal that so nearly put Arsenal into the Champions League semi-final last season. A more mature and consistent Walcott needs to step forward now.

WORD ON THE STREET: Arsenal's greatest strength is also a weakness as while they have a stunning array of youthful talent, their lack of experience has often cost them in the Champions League.

'Our problem in the quarter-final at Liverpool last season was a lack of maturity,' admits Wenger. 'The game was there for the taking after we scored the second away goal, but we did not have the composure you need in that situation and it comes with age.'

Arsenal also have a flaw defending set plays. Time and again, a decent ball into the box catches out central defensive duo William Gallas and Kolo Toure and Wenger has never appeared to find a solution to this glaring weakness that costs them both in the Premier League and in Europe. There is also a feeling that Wenger's lack of transfer funds is holding the club back.

VERDICT: This will not be the season when Arsenal finally conquers Europe. In fact, they may even struggle to get to the quarter-finals.

Status: Portuguese champions
Nickname: Dragoes
UEFA Ranking: 13th

THE RECORD: The 1986 and 2004 European champions have regularly found a way of upsetting the more established giants in the Champions League and they will be looking for more of the same this season.

Serial winners of their own domestic championship, FC Porto are always a threat at their Estadio do Dragao Stadium and if they can collect enough wins on home soil, their hopes of progress in this season's Champions League are not unrealistic.

COACH'S CORNER: The veteran Jesualdo Ferreira has given Porto some stability after a host of coaches came and went following Jose Mourinho's exit to Chelsea in the summer of 2004.

Ferreira has guided the club to successive title triumphs and the knock-out stages of the Champions League for the last two seasons, yet he has been accused of being a little one dimensional and time will tell whether he has the tactical nous to plug the hole left by the departure of Ricardo Quaresma to Internazionale. He has been working as a coach for some 45 years and his experience is vital to Porto.

THE STAR TURN: Argentine midfielder Lucho Gonzalez has been a big hit at Porto after making the move from River Plate in 2005. Reaching his peak at the age of 27, this gifted midfield operator will be keen to prove he is good enough to shine at Champions League level this season.

Not that he was always so committed to Porto. He spent the first half of this summer talking up a move to the Spanish league and rumours of a switch to Barcelona persisted for some time. In the end, an extended contract with Porto and a hefty pay rise ensured Gonzalez's loyalty to the Portuguese champions was re-established.

THE NEW FACE: The arrival of Uruguayan winger Cristian Rodriguez at Porto led many to believe Quaresma would be heading out of the club and so it proved as the Porto talisman linked up with Jose Mourinho at Inter on transfer deadline day.

Rodriguez is a 7million euro arrival from Paris Saint Germain and he should feel at home in a club that has long welcomed South American talent with open arms. The move also riled Porto's rivals Benfica who were expecting to sign the player after his loan spell with them last season.

THE WILD CARD: A striker with the colourful nickname of the 'Hulk' will bulk up the FC Porto attack in the Champions League this season, with Brazilian striker Givanildo Vieira de Souza determined to prove he is worthy of his spot in Europe's elite competition.

'I have joined a club with an amazing history and this is my chance to show I'm good enough to get into the Brazil team,' says the striker who has been playing his football in the Far East for the last few years. 'I will be seen more than ever and have to be confidence of making a big impact.'

YOUNG GUN: Having just celebrated his 22nd birthday, FC Porto new-boy Freddy Guarin is tipped to shine after his summer move from Saint-Etienne.

A full Colombian international, he is at home in a variety if positions across the midfield and he is determined to keep Porto at the top of the tree. 'I have signed for the biggest club in Portugal and they have great ambitions to be the best in the Champions League again,' says Guarin.

WORD ON THE STREET: As Jesualdo Ferreira has had a long-running feud with new Internazionale boss and ex-FC Porto chief Jose Mourinho, a clash between the pair in the Champions League this season would make great viewing. The fact that Mourinho pinched his star man Quaresma during the transfer window merely added a touch more spice to their already frosty relationship.

The pair first crossed paths when Ferreira was a teacher and Mourinho a student at the Lisbon Superior Institute for Physical Education in the early 80s, yet it was clear that the junior member of the duo did not have a high regard for the older man. He turned down the chance to coach Benfica when the club insisted he must have Ferreira on his coaching staff. Stand-by for fireworks if Porto meet Inter this season.

VERDICT: FC Porto were initially thrown out of this year's Champions League due to a bribery investigation and they will be desperate to make the most of their reprieve from UEFA's appeals committee. A last 16 spot is the best they can hope for.

Status: Second in Turkish League
Nickname: The Yellow Canaries
UEFA Ranking: 24th

THE RECORD: Last season was their best-ever performance in this competition, going as far as the quarter-final stage before losing to Chelsea. But they only just squeezed past Partizan Belgrade 4-3 on aggregate to enter this year's draw.

Serial winners in their domestic competitions, they have won the Turkish title on no less than 17 occasions.

COACH'S CORNER: After leading Spain to victory at Euro 2008, 70-year-old Luis Aragones might have been tempted to retire and bask in the glory. Not so. Instead, the 'Wise Man of Hortaleza' agreed to head to Istanbul to run Fenerbahce in his inimitable way. Interestingly, he will be earning £3million per year in Turkey, three times his salary as the boss of Spain.

His desire to try his hand abroad is understandable. He has seen and done it all in Spain and after four years as national team boss, plus stints in the dugout at Atletico Madrid, Real Betis, Barcelona, Oviedo, Valencia, Mallorca and Espanyol, he was due a new challenge.

As a player, he figured in the Atletico Madrid side which lost to Bayern Munich in the replayed 1974 Champions' Cup final. 'If we plug into the spirit and technical quality that is undoubtedly here, this team can give anyone a game,' says Aragones.

THE STAR TURN: Semih Senturk is an instinctive marksman with head or foot who played a huge part in Turkey's run to the semi-finals, netting three vital goals. He is known as 'The Lifesaver' for his ability to come up with late winners.

The top scorer in the Turkish League last season with 17 goals, he is a product of the Fenerbahce youth team and has been in the professional squad since 1999. Only in the last 12 months has he truly come to the fore, spectacularly stepping into the shoes of former crowd favourite Tuncay Sanli following the latter's move to Middlesbrough in the summer of 2007.

THE NEW FACE: The arrival from Newcastle United of the diminutive Turkish international midfielder Emre Belozoglu inevitably sparked controversy. Fans of Galatasaray, where he starred from 1996 to 2001, spoke of 'betrayal', while certain Fenerbahce supporters were unhappy their club had signed someone from the 'enemy camp'.

No question about his ability though. He has a wonderful left-foot and bags of creativity, but he is injury prone and during seven years abroad with Inter Milan and Newcastle, he was on the treatment table more than on the pitch. In 1990 he was instrumental in Galatasaray winning the UEFA Cup.

THE WILD CARD: Aragones began his reign at Fenerbahce by recommending to his employers that they splash out £13m on the Real Mallorca striker Daniel Guiza. The top finisher in La Liga's last term (27 goals), he took his sharp shooting form into Euro 2008, where despite his status as a back-up, he scored twice, against Greece and in the semi-final win over Russia.

A late-developer, he had to wait until his mid-20s to make any sort of impact on the domestic scene, finally hitting his stride during two seasons at Madrid outfit Getafe (2005-07) and cranking it up even further on joining Mallorca, where he flopped as a young pro a few years earlier. He celebrates every goal with his trademark 'archer' pose.

THE YOUNG GUN: The former Bury, Brighton and Sheffield United attacker turned Turkish national team superstar Colin Kazim-Richards proved to be one of the revelations of this year's European Championships, always a considerable threat on the right-flank with his power, pace and directness. Known in Turkey as 'Kazim Kazim', this London-born star owes his international qualification to the fact that his mother is a Turkish-Cypriot, while his father comes from Antigua.

His career has gone into overdrive since joining Fenerbahce from Sheffield United a year ago. A goal against Chelsea in the Champions League last March was an important stepping stone, prompting Turkey boss Fatih Terim to give him his first cap on the eve of Euro 2008 and he didn't disappoint.

WORD ON THE STREET: Aragones' ideas are already bearing fruit. The Turks and Brazilians in the team have an affinity with a philosophy based on a neat short-passing game, retaining possession for long periods and sudden spurts of attacking invention. The coach is very keen on wing play and is well served in this department with Kazim-Kazim on the right and midfielder Ugur Boral and Brazilian full-back Roberto Carlos on the opposite side.

Weak points may include goalkeeper Volkan Demirel who is an enigma, brilliant one moment, hopelessly inept the next. It's a toss of the coin how he will shape up. While defensively, the Brazilian-Uruguayan centre-back pairing of Edu and Diego Lugano also lacks mobility.

VERDICT: Following the appointment of Aragones, expectations are sky-high. However, the second round is probably their level and would be no-mean achievement.

Status: Second in the Ukraine League
Nickname: Bilo-Syni (White-Blues)
UEFA Ranking: 28th

THE RECORD: Kyiv were a real force during the late 1990s, when their attack was spearheaded by the lethal duo of Andriy Shevchenko and Sergei Rebrov. Back in the day, Dynamo reached the quarter-finals in 1997/98 season and the semis the next year.

A surprisingly convincing win against Spartak Moscow in the third qualifying round secured their passage to the group phase of this season's Champions League.

COACH'S CORNER: Former boss of Lokomotiv Moscow and Russia Yuri Semin was appointed early this year. He is under pressure from certain traditionalist Dynamo supporters unhappy with his decision to loan out talented young academy starlets to smaller Ukraine clubs and to increasingly rely on foreigners.

He spent no less than 19 years (1986-05) in charge of Lokomotiv Moscow, whom he transformed from a mid-table side to one of the dominant clubs in Russian football. While there, he led them to a pair of domestic league titles (2002, 2004), four national Cups (1996, 1997, 2000, 2001) and two European Cup Winners Cup semi-finals in 1998 and 1999. In 2005 he had a short, under-achieving stint as Russia's manager.

THE STAR TURN: Ismael Bangoura is a speedy, aggressive Guinea striker who signed in a £4.1m deal in the summer of 2007 after putting himself in the shop window with goals galore for French top-flight side Le Mans. As well as his renowned sharpness in the box, he is also a threat running at defences from deep on the right-flank.

The 23-year-old began his pro career with Corsican club Gazelec Ajaccio before moving to the mainland in 2005 to lead the Le Mans line. He was on target with a magnificent long-range shot against Manchester United in last season's Champions League and celebrates every goal with a dance with Dynamo's Senegalese central defender Pape Diakhate.

THE NEW FACE: Croat international defensive midfielder Ognjen Vukojevic was prised away from Dinamo Zagreb. Many compare him in his homeland with the Italian bulldog Gennaro Gattuso and it is easy to see why. Both share a never say die attitude, have limitless stamina, are infectious in their enthusiasm and can suffer disciplinary lapses.

This is not his first taste of football as a migrant. In 2005 he moved from Croat side Slaven Belupo to Lierse in Belgium, but found it difficult to make an impact and returned home after a year to play for Dinamo. A back-up for his nation at Euro 2008, he is expected to take over some time soon from captain Niko Kovac.

THE WILD CARD: A tall, stylish attacker once labelled the heir apparent to Andriy Shevchenko, Artem Milevskyi has a big reputation to live up to. He has often struggled to live up to the boy wonder tag, but the signs have been much more positive of late. He managed no fewer than five goals in four games against Drogheda and Moscow Spartak in the Champions League preliminaries.

Of Belarussian descent, he was a leading light in the Ukraine Under 21 side which finished runners-up to Holland at the European Championships. Shortly afterwards he went to Germany as part of his country's World Cup squad. His party piece is a penalty chipped into the centre of the goal as the keeper dives one way or the other.

THE YOUNG GUN: Talented Finnish central midfielder Roman Eremenko was recently brought in on loan from Serie A club Udinese, where he had found the competition for a starting place too hot to handle. The 21-year-old spent some time in 2007 on temporary assignment with another Italian outfit, Siena.

He was born in Moscow but moved to Finland with his family at the age of three when his father Alexei, no mean midfielder himself, joined the Jaro club. With the Eremenko clan putting down roots in this part of the world, young Roman was granted Finnish citizenship as a teenager and went on to followed his father into the Jaro first team. His progress was so spectacular he was soon a fixture in the full Finland side and on his way to Udinese in 2005.

WORD ON THE STREET: The recent departure of the Brazilian trio, Diogo Rincon, Michel and Kleber has greatly diminished their potential in the attacking third and the fact that midfielders Correa and Oleg Husiev may miss part of the Champions League campaign through injury is a further body blow. Unity in the dressing room is said to be a problem, with divisions on national lines.

The combination of Diakhate and Taras Mikhalik is shaping up well in central defence, while ex-Santos right-back Betao should prove a useful buy. The wide midfielders, Romania's Tiberiu Ghioane and Milos Ninkovic offer a great deal of thrust.

VERDICT: They can and must do better than last term when they lost all six Champions League games, but they are bound to hit the buffers in December.


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