Arsenal were drawn into Group F of the UEFA Champions League this morning, along with Olympique de Marseille, Olympiakos, and Borussia Dortmund. The competition for advancement to the knockout stages of the tournament will be a bit tougher than the Gunners might have liked, but all in all, this is not the most disastrous of all possible outcomes.
Here's some information about the teams we'll be facing - when it comes time to play them, we'll go into more detail, but here's some tidbits to tide you over until then.
Marseille were Ligue 1 runners-up last season, finishing eight points behind champions Lille. They finished second in their Champions League group last year to Chelsea, before being dispatched on a 2-1 aggregate score by Manchester United. They're a strong team with a bit of very recent history with Arsenal - namely, we've been (allegedly) trying to buy several of their players, including winger Andre Ayew and midfielder Lucho Gonzalez. Since we had such success with the last guy we bought from Marseille (photo credit to FourFourTom), I can definitely see why Arsène Wenger is going back.
Aside from Ayew and Gonzalez, a player to watch is Loïc Rémy, their young striker. In 38 appearances for Marseille in all competitions, he scored 17 goals and had three assists. He's young, but he's good and it will be important for Arsenal's defense to cope with his technique and finishing skill.
Olympiakos were champions of the Superleague Greece last year, their 38th championship in their history (incidentally, they are the most successful club in that competition's history). They ended up 13 (!) points ahead of their rivals and league runners-up Panathinaikos. They went out of the Europa League in the third qualifying round, losing to Maccabi Tel Aviv on a 2-2 aggregate by away goals (which got their manager sacked).
I'll admit that I know just about nothing about Greek football, aside from what I just wrote, and all I can find to assess the team is either written in Greek (which I can't read) or based on a betting site of some kind (which I don't trust). So for now, suffice it to say that it's hard as hell to play in Greece. So that should be fun.
Finally, there's Borussia Dortmund, the team from western Germany that have stolen the hearts and imaginations of much of the SB Nation soccer writing staff, myself included. Der BVB won the Bundesliga last year, finishing seven points clear of Bayer 04 Leverkusen and ten up on Bayern Munich. Because of their UEFA coefficients, Munich were in Pot 1 with us, and Dortmund were in Pot 4. So it goes.
One of Dortmund's more important players, Nuri Şahin, left the team this summer during Real Madrid's now-annual raid of the Bundesliga, but unlike Werder Bremen and Mesut Özil last year, Sahin's exit probably won't spell disaster for Dortmund, mainly because they have more than one awesome player. Still in the squad are perennially-Arsenal-linked defender Neven Subotić, attacking midfielder Shinji Kagawa (who missed half of last season with a broken foot), and defender Mats Hummels, who according to his Wikipedia is sixth on the Castrol Performance Index (which is a rating system for footballers and not, as I assumed, evidence that Dortmund have a car in their defense).
Be sure, though, to watch wunderkind Mario Götze. He's the latest midfielder to get the "next Messi" label, and their managing director has said basically that he wouldn't sell him for "oil fields." No word yet on whether we've tried to send them £5 million and Squillaci for him.
This is not going to be an easy group from which to qualify. It's certainly not as easy as the one Manchester United have fallen into somehow, or even as "easy" as the one we managed to not win last year. It is not, however, going to be impossible, and this might actually be the best possible outcome for Arsenal. With the two-legged showing against Udinese over the last week, while I still think we need additions to the squad, I have few (if any) questions about the heart and effort that Arsenal will give - which was probably our biggest downfall last year, particularly in Europe. A tough group may bring the best out of us. And aside from a trip to Athens, the travel (to Germany and to France) could be a lot worse than it is - we could have to make a trip to Cyprus or Russia, after all.
Emmanuel Frimpong said it right on his Twitter - if the squad are properly focused, this is a group they can win. It's not an easy one, but it's certainly not a Group of Infinite Sorrow like Group A (Bayern Munich, Villareal, Manchester City, and Napoli). It could be a lot worse.
Matchday 1 will be either September 13 or 14 in Dortmund.