Arsenal's domestic season has been a real struggle so far this season, but they have managed to get results in Europe when they were needed. They currently sit in second place in their Champions League group on four points from two games with back to back games against group leaders Marseille to come. The first of those games is tonight, and it's the French team who are at home.
Arsenal managed to win 2-1 away to Udinese in their Champions League qualifier after going in 1-0 down at half time. Their second half performance that night was a glimpse of what the team are capable of when they play at their best. It put them through to the group stages where they got a pretty tough draw in a group with no real minnows.
Arsenal's first game in their group was a trip to German champions Borussia Dortmund, and they came away with a 1-1 draw. It was a strange game in which Arsenal defended poorly in the first half, but Robin Van Persie put them 1-0 just before the break. In the second half Arsenal defended a lot better, but Dortmund equalised just before the end with a wonder goal.
In their next game in the group Arsenal didn't play well at home to Olympiacos, but early goals from Alex Oxdale-Chamberlain and Andre Santos gave them a narrow 2-1 victory. It left Arsenal in a healthy position in the group after Marseille beat Dortmund 3-0 on the same night.
With the top two teams in the group playing each other back to back over the next few weeks both Dortmund and Olympiacos have a chance to get back into contention. If one of those two teams can take six points from those two games the group will probably go right to the wire. However, a win for either Arsenal or Marseille tonight would see them almost insure themselves a place in the knock out stages.
In team news Arsenal will add the fit again Aaron Ramsey to the squad which beat Sunderland on Sunday, but Kieran Gibbs hasn't recovered from his injury in time to travel. Park Ju Young and Emmanuel Frimpong are left out of the squad too, as both Marouane Chamakh and Francis Coquelin return. There is still no place in the squad for Oxlade-Chamberlain despite the excellent performances he has put in when he has played recently.
I think the team will be fairly similar to the one that played at the weekend with Santos of course starting in place of the injured Gibbs. I was impressed with Santos defensively against Sunderland, and I think he looks like he might be a quality acquisition. He still looks a little overweight to me and he takes too long on the ball at times, but both of those problems can be easily sorted out.
Tomas Rosicky was quite good against Sunderland, but I think Ramsey will probably take up the the last midfield role alongside Mikael Arteta and Alex Song. Rosicky doesn't have the legs he had a few years ago, and it might be too much to ask him to start again tonight.
The big decisions on the night for Arsene Wenger will be who he chooses to play on either side of RVP. I wasn't impressed with either Theo Walcott or Gervinho on Sunday, but the have made themselves the first choices so far this season. Wenger has to decide whether to stick with the two of them or give a chance to Andrey Arshavin and/or Yossi Benayoun.
I have a feeling that both Walcott and Gervinho will keep their places, and with Marseille looking to attack Arsenal they might get more room to play in. Walcott is at his best when he is played in behind a defence, but that's not an easy thing to do when the opposition drop off like Sunderland did. I was most disappointed with him towards the end of that game when he wasn't making runs behind the Sunderland defence, as they chased a late equaliser and Arsenal broke forward.
Gervinho has looked good at times, and his ability to get to the end line and put the ball into the box is a great asset. However, he is prone to running straight at defenders with the ball, and losing it far too easily. He needs to pick and choose when to take defenders on, but he is still settling into the Arsenal team and the Premier League too.
Marseille may have six points from their two Champions League games so far, but they have rode their luck a little at times just like Arsenal. They are on top of the group because they have defended well and taken their chances, and they will need to do the same thing tonight. In their domestic league Marseille have only won once in their first 10 matches, and they are 15th in the table.
It shows that they are having problems just like Arsenal, and with a good enough performance Arsenal have every chance of winning. I think RVP will again be the key man for Arsenal, and his 29 goal return so far this calender year is absolutely fantastic. If Arsenal can make chances for RVP I think they will score, and hopefully take the three points too.
I'm predicting a 2-1 win for Arsenal with RVP getting at least one of the goals. He scored his first free kick in a very long time on Sunday, and hopefully it will give him the confidence to score a few more free kicks. Arsenal's free kicks have been very wasteful so far this season, but they certainly have some players capable of scoring them.
That's it for today.
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