Arsenal – Marseille (Champions League)
Matchday five will bring Marseille to the Emirates on Tuesday night. The hosts will be hoping to guarantee a place amongst the knock-out stage. The biggest risk this fixtures poses to Arsenal is that they underestimate Olympic Marseille. The French team is at the bottom of the Group F with no change of qualifying. The only thing left for them is to show the world they are worth more than the zero points they’ve gathered in this Champions League group stage.
Last weekend the Gunners beat Southampton at home, and important step to maintain the team atop of the Premier League table. Olivier Giroud netted twice, first by taking advantage of goalkeeper Boruc’s blunder and then hitting a penalty shot. Even with the previous setback at Old Trafford, Wenger’s men survived November’s fixtures without caving. They are title contenders and they can not be ignored. When it comes to the Champions League the picture is similar. They lead group F, level on points with Napoli, and can almost taste the last 16. The run started with Arsenal travelling to France for a successful night (1-2). After Napoli came to London and the Gunners held their ground (2-0). The following games were to Borussia Dortmund, last Champions League runners-up. Against the odds Ozil and team-mates fell at home (1-2) and conquered Dortmund a fortnight later (0-1). Nine points in four games, six goals for and three against, not a bad track-record. But now they must go for the close and a victory over OM is the shortest way there. In the first leg Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey scored for the English and Jordan Ayew step up for the French. It is possible that Walcott returns to the pitch this reverse fixture, probably not for the 90 minutes though.
Probable lineup: Wojciech Szczesny – Bacary Sagna, Per Mertsacker, Laurent Koscielny, Kieran Gibbs – Aaron Ramsey, Mikel Arteta – Tomas Rosicky, Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla – Olivier Giroud.
Marseille are 4th in the Ligue 1, 24 points in 14 games, seven wins, three draws and four defeats. This has been a hard season for Elie Baup’s men. They even went through 7 straight fixtures without a wining, six of which were losses. Since the last Champions League matchday however they had two consecutive victories, 2-1 at home over Sochaux and a 1-3 away triumph against AC Ajaccio. Their Champions League performance was totally disappointing. They count for losses all the four matches they had so far, 1-2 was the result at the Velódrome both against Arsenal and Napoli. At Dortmund they suffered three without response. But as visitor to San Paolo they putted up a fight and Napoli had to struggle for the 3-2 win. The truth is there is nothing left for Marseille in this Champions League season. Other than to regains some dignity. And that is way they’ll make things hard for the Gunners. Dimitri Payet is out with a swollen knee. Gignac and Valbuena also picked up knocks in the last game but are ready to play.
Probable lineup: Steve Mandanda – Kassim Abdallah, Nicolas N’Koulou, Diawara, Benjamin Mendi – Gianelli Imbula, Alayxis Romao – Florian Thauvin, Mathieu Valbuena, Jordan Ayew, – Gignac.
Arsène Wenger is a regular in the Champions League. His Arsenal side qualified for it every single of the last sixteen years. Quite an accomplishment, even if he failed to win the trophy in all of those runs. Closing on the access to the last 16 he is in where he always wanted, at the top of the table, both of Group F and of the Premier League. Success is at harms length but his team has still a lot of work ahead. Defeating Marseille this Tuesday would be a major boost.