By Chris Harris in Dortmund
"I have a great respect for Jurgen Klopp. He rose up very quickly in his career and he's brought some great impulses to Dortmund. What does he do better than me? I don't know - maybe a lot of things! I love to see his team play. They play a very attractive, dynamic type of football and I like it." - Arsene Wenger
There was a carefree atmosphere at Arsene Wenger's press conference in Dortmund on Monday evening. No wonder - in a country still enjoying the afterglow of World Cup glory, this was a chance for German journalists to talk to a German-speaking manager about a squad sprinkled with German stars.
But behind the playfulness there was a clear message: Arsenal face the toughest of starts to this Champions League group stage.
With due respect to Anderlecht and Galatasaray - and a potentially perilous group finale in Istanbul in December - Dortmund away is up there with the toughest assignments in European football.
Wenger and his players don't need telling that. The Arsenal manager will be pitting his wits against Jurgen Klopp for the third time in four seasons while Mesut Ozil, Per Mertesacker and Lukas Podolski have played alongside a sizeable chunk of Dortmund's squad on international duty.
Throw in former Dortmund playmaker Tomas Rosicky and you have a wealth of familiarity - and an awareness that the 1997 winners and 2013 finalists are live contenders again.
"The main threats will still be the German teams and the Spanish teams," said Wenger. "Look at the number of times Bayern has been in the final, there is no obvious reason in the last five years that they should not be there. Dortmund are a regular participant as well and in Spain there are the two big clubs in Barcelona and Real Madrid who will be contenders again.
"It is always a pressure when [the German players] go back to their country," he added. "You are under more under scrutiny and the attention is a bit bigger, that’s for sure.
"But it is not such an advantage to have three German players in the squad because we know Dortmund anyway. We face them each year so we know them quite well.
"We had a very physical game against Manchester City, so it is going to be tough. But I think we have recovered well. Sometimes in this second game you can even be stronger. I don’t think that the recovery will be a big problem."
Wenger did of course engineer a 1-0 victory at the BVB Stadion in last season's group stage - Dortmund's first home defeat to English opposition in Europe - but a 2-1 reverse in the return fixture two weeks earlier left the ledger all square between them.
This time, the Gunners arrive in Germany on the back of an unbeaten - if occasionally unconvincing - start to the season. There was plenty to enjoy about their performance against Manchester City at the weekend, with Alexis Sanchez and Jack Wilshere especially eye-catching.
In Ramsey, Ozil, Podolski, Danny Welbeck, Santi Cazorla, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Joel Campbell, Arsenal have an abundance of attacking options. But the questions ahead of Tuesday's encounter focused on their defensive cover in the wake of Mathieu Debuchy's ankle injury.
The France international was suspended for this game anyway but Wenger's resources were stretched thinner when Nacho Monreal was ruled out with a minor back problem while Calum Chambers - theoretically Debuchy's replacement at right back - is rated 50:50 after going down with tonsillitis.
|Dortmund: Kirch (thigh), Gundogan (back), Sahin (knee), Reus (ankle), Blaszczykowski (muscle tear), Hummels (muscle)Arsenal: Debuchy (ankle), Monreal (back), Gnabry (thigh), Giroud (ankle)|
Monreal is expected to return to training on Friday but Arsenal can ill-afford to lose first-choice centre backs Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny right now.
"In defence the Debuchy injury puts us a little bit on a situation where we do not want more," said Wenger. "Hopefully we will have good news after he has a scan and that he will be back soon.
"We have Chambers who can play in different positions, Monreal can play centre back and we also have [Hector] Bellerin who I think is now ready to play.
"Bellerin is a boy with personality. He's not fazed by pressure and that's a very important quality when you are a young boy and play at a big club. His transitional game is fantastic - he's very quick and his final ball is good as well. He lacks a bit of experience still as a defender but he's very dangerous going forward."
Dortmund, who warmed up for Arsenal's visit with a comfortable 3-1 win over Freiburg, have significant absentees of their own.
Marco Reus, Ilkay Gundogan, Nuri Sahin, Jakub Blaszczykowski and Mats Hummels are the most notable, while Robert Lewandowski - who scored the winner at Emirates Stadium last season - joined Bayern Munich in the summer.
"But it is not such an advantage to have three German players in the squad because... we face them each year so we know them quite well"
Shinji Kagawa has returned to Dortmund after a stop-start spell at Manchester United and, as ever, Klopp's side will have bags of belligerence.
"We want to be as aggressive as we can," said Klopp. "We have to concentrate on the main attributes you need when playing football. Then we will have to be tactically clever to nullify their way of playing. After doing that we can bring our own skills to the table. That will be a hard job for us tomorrow."
Klopp has once again had to regenerate his squad in the wake of big-name departures and Wenger - who until recently had the same problem - has never hidden his admiration for the Dortmund coach.
"I have a great respect for him," said Wenger. "He rose up very quickly in his career and he's brought some great impulses to Dortmund. What does he do better than me? I don't know - maybe a lot of things! I love to see his teams play. They play a very attractive, dynamic type of football and I like it."
For all that, there's a sense that this might not be a bad time to face Dortmund - if you have to face them at all.
The loss of Reus, Blaszczykowski and Hummels removes creativity, pace and defensive organisation, and that could play into the hands of an Arsenal side that caused Man City's respected defence all manner of problems at the weekend.
History also happens to be on Arsenal's side - the Gunners are unbeaten in their last 10 matchday one fixtures, while Dortmund have won just one of their last six group openers.
It takes something special to silence the Yellow Wall - the imposing terrace that houses Dortmund's most vociferous supporters - but with Alexis bedded in and Welbeck on board, Arsenal appear to have those special ingredients.
As Wenger admitted last week, the Gunners need some luck to keep their key defenders fit. But overall the Frenchman's squad looks better equipped for a sustained assault on the Champions League.
This time last year it was all about navigating a path through the 'group of death'. Getting out of this year's Group D will also be difficult and dangerous, but it looks perfectly doable.
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