Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Arsenal v Marseille – Preview

UEFA Champions League: Group F tablePWDLFAGDPts
1. Arsenal32104227
2. Marseille32014136
3. Olympiacos31024403
4. Borussia Dortmund301227-51

The Group F table makes for satisfying reading at present, and tonight the Gunners can ensure that Marseille do not leapfrog us at the top. Their form is perhaps in the ascendancy – since we last met Les Phocéens they have climbed to ninth in the French Championship, with two domestic wins on the trot against AJ Ajaccio and Dijon. Indeed, Marseille haven’t lost in their last six games in Ligue 1.

Our own even stronger run of form continues, however, and buoyed by the superb win over Chelsea the Gunners should be full of confidence. The added advantage of a home tie, with some hopefully voluble support to further get behind the team should only increase the chances of achieving another win to consolidate that uppermost position.

Away from home Marseille are likely to cede possession, relying on their strong defence and counter-attacking ability. Therefore Arsenal will still have to be wary of the threat posed by players such as André Ayew, Loïc Rémy and Mathieu Valbuena. The French side have no major injuries to players, other than influential midfielder Stephane Mbia, who broke his foot in August and is still out of action.

Wenger may be tempted to make some changes to his side for this one; Jenkinson will probably come into the team at the expense of Djourou while Vermaelen may also play – however, as Lee Dixon would tell us, the key to a solid defence is understanding between the back four, and as such I would be wary of breaking up the improving Koscielny-Mertesacker partnership.

The manager has already mentioned how conscious he is that van Persie is currently shouldering an enormous burden up front – but given his current form it is almost impossible to leave him out. Introducing him from the substitutes bench may be an option, however, and with Chamakh out due to a knee injury the obvious alternative is to start Ju Young Park. He put in a good stint against Bolton and scored a great goal. The ex-Monaco striker would undoubtedly relish the opportunity to play against Marseille.

However, although the Gunners are currently top of their Champions League group qualification is not yet secure, so given what is at stake Wenger may not be willing to gamble. Ideally we need to win the group to give ourselves the best chance of progressing further in subsequent rounds, which also makes the Borussia Dortmund home game on 23 November an important fixture. Arsène has hinted that he might field a largely unchanged side, commenting:

‘Sometimes if you take a team on a roll, there is no need to change it. When a team is on a positive experience, why not? That is what I have to decide. I did it away from home, at Donetsk, and got punished last season. But you could finish first and still play Barcelona.’

Still, Arshavin, Benayoun and Rosicky are all available, and Oxlade-Chamberlain, Frimpong and Ryo have all been named in the matchday squad – the latter at the expense of Coquelin, who does not figure. With the possible exception of the prodigiously talented but extremely youthful Ryo, any one of these players could slot into the team, and all will be keen to seize an opportunity to feature.

Elsewhere in Europe Olympiacos travel to Germany to play Dortmund, which will provide a further indication of the size of the task left for Arsenal come November 23rd. The recently vanquished Chelsea are also in action against Genk – Blues fans will undoubtedly be hoping that the rather accident-prone John Terry has changed his studs since Saturday…

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