ARSENAL were handed the ‘Group of Death’ in the Champions League draw on Thursday – on the day that Mathieu Flamini became only the second arrival at the Emirates this summer.
But manager Arsene Wenger warned that more is needed if they are to make it to the knockout stages of the competition after being drawn in a group that includes last year’s beaten finalists Borussia Dortmund, Marseille and Rafa Benitez’s Napoli, who have Gonzalo Higuain, the Argentian striker Arsenal were closely linked with before his £34.5 million move from Real Madrid to Italy.
Ivan Gazidis flew into Monaco for the glittering draw, at which Franck Ribery was named the surprise winner of UEFA’s Balon D’Or trophy for being the best player on the continent. But the Gunners chief executive never made it to the auditorium, as he was called away immediately on urgent business.
Given the horrendous draw, he needs to do something before Monday’s 11pm transfer deadline after signing out-of-contract Flamini did little to appease the anxiety of Arsenal fans.
Even Wenger said: “When you think we lost players of the stature of Mikel Arteta, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lukas Podolski for three months basically before the season really starts, it’s very hard to take. We are in a position where you want some more players.”
Bids for Higuain, Luis Suarez and Yohan Cabaye have all fallen on deaf ears and Real Madrid director Emilio Butragueno poured further doubt on any hopes of Arsenal prising away Karim Benzema, Mesut Ozil or Angel Di Maria by insisting the trio were not for sale.
Wenger tried to put a gloss on on Thursday business – the only other signing has been the free transfer for striker Yaya Sanogo – and insisted Flamini, 29, can only get better.
He said: “The best years are in front of Flamini now – the next three years. Physically, he is perfect. He was tested, prepared and he is physically in fantastic shape.
“He knows how we play football, knows the club and had a huge desire to come back. He was available because he was out of contract and he is a quality player, and a focused player, so those were all the reasons that pushed me to make that decision.”
Flamini left Arsenal in 2008 and, after five years at AC Milan, is expected to go straight into the squad for Sunday’s north London derby against Tottenham.
But Arsenal’s draw was just as difficult as Celtic’s, who are grouped with Barcelona, AC Milan and Ajax. They beat Barcelona at home last year but boss Neil Lennon banged his head on the table he was sitting at while watching the draw.
Adapted from Express