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A Cesc Fabregas-less Arsenal side were given a Messi masterclass in last season's Champions League quarter-final, with the little Argentine scoring four in the second leg to dump Arsene Wenger's men out of the competition.

STRENGTHS & WEAKNESSES

If you're not great at keeping hold of possession then you'd better hope you're fit because Arsenal will play it around you until you are blue in the face. It has long been a policy of Arsene Wenger to get his side to play attractive football - England's answer to tiki-taka - and his teams have long been lauded as the prettiest in the Premier League.

But Arsenal's strength is also their weakness, and Wenger's team regularly struggle to finish off sides despite having a healthy share of possession. Don't expect many shots from outside the area, as the Gunners will prefer to create little openings with round-the-corner passes into the box. That and a predominantly young team that lacks solid Champions League experience - something that was woefully exposed in the Gunners' demolition in the Nou Camp last season.

STARS & KEY PLAYER

There is no guarantee that Arsenal will finish the season with captain Cesc Fabregas in their ranks, as the opening of the January transfer window will no doubt see Barcelona step up their pursuit of the Spain star, but he will be leading the Gunners for the first half of the season at least. Despite months of speculation surrounding his future - and admissions that he wanted to return home to northern Spain - no one can doubt Fabregas' commitment to the Gunners' cause and he will be their star man, if he is on the pitch.

Away from Fabregas, England winger Theo Walcott is grabbing the headlines at the moment with some sterling displays on the right of midfield, with fans of club and country hoping they are finally seeing glimpses of the player that made him a multi-million pound signing while still a teenager.
 
COACH & TACTICAL

Arsene Wenger is as much a part of Arsenal as any other Gunners legend. I mean, come on: his name even sounds like the team! And while the Frenchman is loved in one half of north London he has failed to bring silverware to the Emirates since 2005, thanks in part to a policy of playing a youthful, but often inexperienced, side.

The ball is rarely in the air at an Arsenal game, with the team ordered to play it short, and with a pitch that is narrower than most, opposing teams are frequently squeezed out of the game. Marouane Chamakh is Wenger's latest star signing up front, but the real star quality lies in Arsenal's midfield with Cesc Fabregas, Tomas Rosicky and Samir Nasri covering every square inch. When they are missing, Arsenal suffer.

SUCCESSES

One of the most iconic sides in England, Arsenal enjoyed sporadic success in the 1950s and 70s but really hit the jackpot when Wenger arrived in 1996, going on to win three Premier League titles and four FA Cups. Success has so far evaded Wenger in Europe, though, with his side losing the Champions League final to Barcelona in 2006 - the closest he has come to lifting Europe's biggest trophy.
 


STADIUM

For 93 years Arsenal played at the iconic Highbury, with it's Clock End and 1930s facade, but they moved to the shiny new Emirates Stadium in 2006, around the corner in Holloway. Many Gunners fans are still bitter about moving to a modern, 60,000-seater stadium after life in the charismatic old ground, but it is a significant improvement from the capacity of 38,400.

HERO OF THE FANS

Fabregas still holds a special place in most Gunners fans' hearts - if only for putting off a move to Barcelona this long - never mind his undoubted place at Arsenal as the team's best player. The Spaniard clearly has love for the club and supporters too, after moving to north London as a 16-year-old and if he does indeed leave the club in the near future, it will be with a heavy heart.

GOAL.COM PREDICTION

The Gunners will be relatively confident after finding themselves in Group G with Braga, Partizan Belgrade and Shakhtar Donesk. The Ukrainian champions pose the biggest threat but Wenger's side will be favourites to top the group.


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Theo Walcott Theo Walcott
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