Arsenal heads to the south of France to continue our Champions League adventure. This is the first of 2 back-to-back matches against Marseille. Stade Velodrome will provide the backdrop for this encounter and this is the same pitch where Dennis Bergkamp scored that immaculate goal for Holland against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup.
Marseille are currently the leaders of this Group F. So far, they’ve won away at Olympiacos and beaten Borussia Dortmund at home. The second result is far more impressive of course. At the start, I would expect it to be a straight contest between us and Dortmund to determine who finishes top of the group. As it stands, we are only 2 points behind the French team and could go top with a win tonight.
Like us, Marseille are also having a torrid time in Ligue 1. Sitting in 15th place, they’ve only won 1 domestic league match out of 10 matches. Which is totally opposite of their form in the European competition and that tells us that tonight would be no walk in the park. Obvious dangermen are Lucho Gonzalez, Andre Ayew and Loic Remy. The first two have been linked with us before, not least in the recent transfer window.
I have not seen much of Marseille to be honest. However, from past viewings, Didier Deschamps have players who are quite efficient from wide positions. Something which Carl Jenkinson and Andre Santos would have to be wary of. With Andre-Pierre Gignac possibly starting, there’s the bulky centre forward for where the crossing will be aimed for. Yet, if Per Mertesacker continues in the same positional awareness, that threat is minimised.
On the Arsenal front, Aaron Ramsey makes a return to the squad after missing out on Sunderland. His place in the treatment room is taken by Kieran Gibbs who suffers from abdominal problems. The others are as we know. The biggest decision would probably be the absence of Park Ju Young in the travelling party.
This merry go round thing between him and Marouane Chamakh is worrying. The Korean selected on the bench ahead of Chamakh for the Sunday game and now the roles seemed to have reversed. I’m starting to get worried for Park. Despite his scoring form on the international front, he’s not getting a look-in the first team chances at Arsenal. It would be easy to assume that a game against a side which he is familiar with, represent the best opportunity for him to play. Would be interesting to see the development of this one.
There should be no major surprise on how we will line-up tonight.
The only positions that are undecided are the two which I put double options. While Tomas Rosicky was very impressive in the Sunderland game, very rarely have we seen him perform in 2 consecutive games, let alone play in 2. That said, his drive and energy from the weekend game was refreshing to see and could very well get another chance tonight. Meanwhile, a refreshed Aaron Ramsey brings a different type of game. One which depends more on the precision and riskiness of passing. Whichever one is selected from these two, should be able to do a job for us.
Further up front, only Robin Van Persie can be a sure starter. Theo Walcott, Gervinho and Andrey Arshavin will have to slug out for the remaining 2 spots. The former duo has shown spurts of what they are capable of in recent game but not the consistency.
I’m not talking about consistency from one game to another. Rather, I’m talking about consistency within a single game itself. 5, 10 minutes flashes of brilliance and subdued for the rest of it. Perhaps some time on the bench with Arshavin being given the chance is just what the doctor prescribed, to get them back into the groove of things.
With all the pressure and expectation on the shoulder of Van Persie, the onus is on either one of these 3 to pick up their game. Marseille will be focussing a lot of their attention on our in-form captain and that should help free up some space and pressure on the other 2 attacking outlets.
Arsene Wenger won’t be the most welcomed man in Marseille. Even Boro Primorac might get a bit of heckling. That is for their part in the implication of match fixing which resulted in Marseille being demoted to Ligue 2. Yet, it would be a welcomed return to the bench for Wenger.
The way the group has panned out, I don’t see us losing a game a home. Therefore, to get 3 points tonight would make progression out of the group stage far easier. Both sides would be looking for the same result and it would not be a draw. That should guarantee a spectacle to watch.
Here’s to another positive result. Up The Arsenal!!