Following a rather comfortable win over Southampton in the Premier League, Arsenal welcome Ligue 1 side Olympique Marseille to the Emirates in the fifth round of the Champions League group stage. A victory for Arsene Wenger’s side can all but guarantee a place in the knockout stages of the competition and the Gunners will be looking to finish their business early as travelling to Naples in need of points is not a very ideal situation.
With Group F still so evenly poised between Arsenal, Napoli and Dortmund, one bad result can have a significant impact on qualification and Arsene Wenger will know that his side have to be on their toes and take nothing for granted as the group’s minnows come to visit. Despite a rather dismal European campaign so far, Marseille are a very decent side and are very much capable of an upset or two. While qualification is out of the picture for the French outfit, sometimes playing for pride can get the best out of players.
Tactically, I think it will be a very straightforward game for Arsenal. With Marseille having no hopes of qualification, the onus will be on the home side to be on the offensive. Elie Baup’s side might well be looking to soak up as much pressure as possible and hurt the Gunners on the break. The system that Marseille play is heavily reliant on wing play from Florian Thauvin and Dmitri Payet and the creativity of Mathieu Valbuena, keeping them quiet will be crucial for Arsenal. The returning Mathieu Flamini will have a job on his hands today and I am confident that the Frenchman will deliver.
Considering Marseille are likely to come to the Emirates to sit back and defend, chances may be limited for the North London side and I certainly hope Olivier Giroud will once again be wearing his scoring boots. Looking at all the creativity in the Gunners midfield, there are bound to be chances, so let’s hope Giroud and Co. can take full advantage. Overall, I think Arsenal will be a little too strong for their Ligue 1 visitors and I fully expect another three points. Should Dortmund beat Napoli at the Westfalenstadion, which they probably will, a victory for Arsenal tonight will surely book a place in the last 16 of Europe’s elite competition.
Starting with Arsenal, Mikel Arteta, who seemed to have picked up a knock at the weekend, has been pronounced fit by Arsene Wenger but is not likely to start the game. Mathieu Flamini is back in the side following his suspension in the Premier League and is certain to start against his former club. Theo Walcott is in the squad but the Englishman is likely to start on the bench as Wenger will try and ease him back into first team football. As for Marseille, the notable absentees are Andre Ayew and Rod Fanni, who are recovering from knee and foot problems respectively.
Arsenal: Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs; Flamini, Ramsey; Rosicky, Ozil, Cazorla; Giroud.
Marseille: Mandanda; Abdallah, N’Koulou, Diawara, Mendy; Thauvin, Romao, Cheyrou, Payet; Valbuena, Gignac.