Goal takes a look at the key factors in determining which two of Arsenal, Marseille, Dortmund and Napoli will be taking their place in the last 16
This year, Arsenal, Olympique de Marseille, Borussia Dortmund and Napoli will do battle for a last-16 berth. Each side possess some of the best players on the planet, with Mesut Ozil of the Gunners facing the likes of Gonzalo Higuain, Ilkay Gundogan and Dimitri Payet.
Here, Goal profiles the four unlucky teams and examines their respective chances of making it past the first phase of the competition.
By James Goldman
Though Arsenal have been handed their toughest group stage assignment since their second season in the competition, they should meet the challenge ahead without any form of inferiority complex.
Back in 1999, Arsenal, and to some extent Arsene Wenger, were European novices playing their home matches at Wembley. Pitted against a Rivaldo-inspired Barcelona and a Gabriel Batsituta-led Fiorentina they were comprehensively outclassed.
Arsenal may not be the dominant pacesetters they once were at home, but in Europe they are now, if not a force, an accomplished and highly respected club - recent history stands them in good stead.
At this stage of the competition two seasons ago Arsenal took eight points from four fixtures against Marseille and Borussia Dortmund, while Arsene Wenger’s head-to-head record against Italian opposition and Rafa Benitez provides a significant source of encouragement.
If they are to progress, however, maintaining a relatively clean bill of health is essential. Already their forward options have been severely hampered by injuries to Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, while Olivier Giroud is nursing a knee injury.
An abundance of midfield options, bolstered by the arrival of assist king Mesut Ozil, and an improving, if far from faultless, defence, will count for little if Giroud and even Theo Walcott were to miss decisive fixtures.
|OLYMPIQUE DE MARSEILLE
By Mohammed Ali
Marseille return to Europe's premier club competition after a season on the sidelines, but any hope of an extended run in the Champions League, similar to a last eight finish in 2011-12, appears to have been diminished after arguably the club's toughest group stage draw to date.
Despite being second seeds, there's no doubt - even among the Marseillais - that the club face three sides who possess some of the biggest stars on the continent. But it is these matches, against stellar quality opposition, that Marseille thrive on and provides the basis to test themselves against the best.
Recent history against Dortmund and Arsenal suggest that a top two finish might not be impossible. Two years ago against the Gunners, Marseille were denied by a 93rd minute winner at the Velodrome before a solid defensive performance saw them pick up a 0-0 draw at the Emirates. Though, it was the results against last season's runners-up - a 3-0 win at home, and that stunning comeback in Germany - that the club will be hoping to emulate or better this time round.
If they are to go through - a strong defence is key. Marseille have been susceptible at the back in Ligue 1 this campaign, but cannot afford to make such mistakes in Europe. Last time out, only four goals were scored past Steve Mandanda in six games. Furthermore, key players such as Andre-Pierre Gignac and Dimitri Payet must be at their best if OM are to upset the odds.
By Enis Koylu
In many ways, 2013-14 will reveal the true Borussia Dortmund to the rest of Europe. As brilliant as they were last term, they were awful the previous year, when they faced two of this campaign's group stage opponents in Arsenal and Marseille.
As well as having the likes of Marco Reus and Ilkay Gundogan, two of the Bundesliga's (and indeed Europe's) finest players on their side, they will be motivated by revenge, eager to show those at the Velodrome and the Emirates that they are no longer the pushovers they were two years ago.
Since their defeat to Bayern Munich in May, they have also added proven talent to their squad in the form of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who has made a flying start to life in Germany and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and lost only Mario Gotze from their first-team.
There are still worries, though. They have kpet just two clean sheets from their opening five league games and still look a little short-staffed in certain areas, with Kevin Grosskreutz filling in at right-back. However, if they stay largely injury-free, they have all the quality to top the Group of Death, just as they did last year.
By Kris Voakes
In some territories outside of Italy there appears to be a belief that Napoli have been significantly weakened by the loss of Edinson Cavani to Paris Saint-Germain over the summer, but their form and general play so far this season has suggested otherwise.
Having outscored every other team in Serie A, the Partenopei sit top of the table with three wins from their opening three matches and have shown signs that they may well be a stronger outfit this term, less dependent on a single man as they were with Cavani in 2012-13.
While the clash with Dortmund on Wednesday will be infinitely tougher than their Serie A assignments against Bologna, Chievo and Atalanta, the way in which the Naples side have adapted quickly to Rafa Benitez's new tactics, formation and demands has been hugely promising, with new players slotting quickly into the Spaniard's way of operating.
The club's future in the Champions League beyond the group stage will rely more than anything on the players' ability to carry that character, discipline and flair into the biggest of arenas. Arsenal, Dortmund and Marseille are not of an ilk to roll over and die, and so it will take 100 per cent concentration for the Azzurri to progress. Thankfully, Benitez is not a coach who accepts anything less than that, and will know that his defence will become an issue once more if everyone isn't pulling together as required.
As with previous Benitez teams, he will rely on star players to provide the extra quality necessary on the big occasion, with new signings Gonzalo Higuain, Jose Callejon and Dries Mertens likely to add to Marek Hamsik and young Lorenzo Insigne as players to whom Benitez will turn when looking for a big game performance. If Napoli are to progress, then most - if not all - of them will need to stand up and be counted during the course of the group stage.