By Peter McVitie

Schalke need Klaas-Jan Huntelaar firing on all cylinders

The battle is on for first place as Schalke, Arsenal and Montpellier will all feel worthy of topping the very close and exciting Group B.

Schalke progressed straight to the group stages of the competition after finishing third in the Bundesliga last season. The Gelsenkirchen side have lost the competition’s all-time highest goalscorer in Raul who departed the Veltins Arena in the summer.

The German giants made it to the semi-finals of the competition two seasons ago, disposing of Valencia and then champions Inter before being eliminated by Manchester United at the penultimate hurdle. Last term, Huub Stevens’s side were battling in the Europa League and reached the quarter-finals before they were eliminated by Athletic Bilbao.

Schalke have added Ibrahim Afellay, Tranquillo Barnetta and Roman Neustädter to their side to bolster the attack which is spearheaded by last season’s Bundesliga top goalscorer Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.

Podolski in good form for a strong Arsenal team

Arsenal came close to pulling off a massive shock last season as they came from within a goal of forcing extra-time against AC Milan in the second-round of last year’s competition, despite losing 4-0 in the first-leg.

The North London club are in good form so far this season and have great potential up front in Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud, Santi Cazorla, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gervinho, whilst their defence is looking its strongest for some time with Per Mertesacker, Thomas Vermaelen and Laurent Koscielny in fine form.

Arsene Wenger’s side will feel they are worthy of progressing to the quarter-finals at least but first must get past this very tough group.

Rene Girard’s Montpellier want to shock the world

It would be a surprise to see Montpellier progress past the first stage of the Champions League, but if there is one side capable of pulling off major shocks it is the Ligue 1 champions themselves. Not much is expected of the French side but Rene Girard’s men have already shocked European football once by beating big spending PSG to the French title last season and will be hoping to surprise the continent again by progressing to the knockout phase in their first Champions League campaign.

Montpellier have surprisingly managed to hold on to the majority of the impressive young side with the exception of Giroud who departed for Arsenal but a lack of experience and depth could prove detrimental.

The Greeks will be confident of getting third

Olympiacos, paired with Arsenal for the second time in a row at this stage, finished third in Group F last season and progressed to the round of 16 of the Europa League. In 2009-10 the Greek side reached the second-round of the Champions League before Bordeaux eliminated them.

The Τhrylos picked up 3-1 victories over Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund in the Karaiskakis Stadium in last season’s competition and will be hoping to replicate such results this time around. The other teams in Group B cannot underestimate young coach Leonardo Jardim’s side and the Greek champions will feel that they can mount a serious challenge for third place at the very least.

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