Monday, 25 November 2013

Arsenal v Marseille Preview

It's back to Champions League action tomorrow night for Arsenal with Marseille coming to the Emirates for the fifth of six games in their qualifying group. At the moment Arsenal are on top of the group with three wins from four games and Marseille bring up the rear with no points. Arsenal won their first game in the group 2-1 away to Marseille and another win tomorrow night would leave them with one foot in the door of the knockout stages.

Usually any team on 12 points would be through to the last 16, but because Marseille have no points Arsenal cannot be sure a win will put them through. If Dortmund win at home to Napoli the group will go down to the last game for each team with Arsenal travelling to Napoli and Dortmund travelling to Marseille. It's a situation that would be very tense to say the least and not one I would look forward to.

Of course Arsenal are in great form away from home and more than capable of getting a result in Napoli if it comes to it. They would win the group with a draw or win at Napoli as long as they beat Marseille and even a defeat by one goal would probably be enough to see them through. There's a possibility of the game being played behind closed doors too because of the previous behaviour of the Napoli fans.

That's all very complicated and depends on a lot of other things, but one thing is sure and that is Arsenal have to beat Marseille. In an ideal world Arsenal would win and Dortmund wouldn't and the last game would just be to decide the group winner. Arsenal may have won at Dortmund in their last game but I can't see Napoli doing it too. 

In team news there are no injury worries after the weekend game and Mathieu Flamini will return to the squad after being suspended for that game. His availability gives Arsene Wenger a bit of a selection headache, but I'm sure it's one he would prefer to have than not. If he plays both Flamini and Mikael Arteta in the team he might lose some of the team's attacking flair and that's a department where they have struggled a little in recent games.

Theo Walcott made his comeback off the bench for the final 20 minutes on Saturday and he could be available to play from the start too. If Walcott and Flamini are both to be included the big question is which players would miss out. Olivier Giroud, Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil surely have to play while Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky will all feel they should be included too. Add in Arteta, Flamini and Walcott and there's nine players for six places without even considering Serge Gnabry.

I don't expect to see any changes in the defence or goalkeeper of course after another impressive display at the weekend. There will be a few players disappointed not to make it to the bench even as Arsenal's squad strength starts to show with their injury problems receding at last. There are only six outfield places available on the bench and eight players will be hoping to make that bench.

All of this gives the manager plenty of options and that's got to be a good thing for the team. There are still a few more players to return from injury with Lukas Podolski due back in a few weeks, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the new year and Abou Diaby in March (for a few weeks anyway). If Arsenal are to continue to challenge in the Premier League and progress in the Champions League they will need all of those players.

Marseille may have nothing left to play for in the group, but that doesn't mean they will be a pushover for Arsenal. They showed how well they could play when Arsenal won 2-1 away to them and the only difference on the night was Arsenal's finishing. They came out in that game and attacked Arsenal and played some good football too, but paid the price for some poor finishing.

Arsenal have improved an awful lot since that game and sit on top of the Premier League as well as their Champions League group. They have got a midfield other clubs can only dream of having and goal scoring potential from so many positions. Arsenal haven't really clicked in attack in their last two games but I'm hoping the importance of the game will bring the best out of them.

They showed how they can dig in and get a result away to Dortmund in the last group game, but I'm hoping for a performance like the one at home to Napoli tomorrow night. The team came out in that game and attacked Napoli from the first minute with the type of attacking football that we all know they can produce. If they can do the same against Marseille I have no doubt they will get the win they need and by a couple of goals at least.

Marseille could well end up with no points at all from this group and they must be cursing their luck at the group they were drawn in. If they been drawn in some of the other groups they would have had a genuine chance of qualifying or at least making it through to the Europa League. Anything other than a win against Arsenal will confine them to bottom place in the group and rule out any progression into the lesser  European competition.

I think Walcott will probably start on the bench again, but I wouldn't be surprised to see both Flamini and Rosicky come in from the start. Wilshere might be one of the players to lose out, but it's impossible to predict who the other one might be. Maybe the manager will decide to play only one holding midfielder and Arteta will get a rest as he did come off with what looked like a knock on Saturday.

I'll be curious to see if Nicklas Bendtner makes it to the bench with places at a premium as he is still the most realistic replacement for Giroud if the big Frenchman were to get injured. I have a feeling he will miss out though and we will see less and less of him as the other players come back from injury. The manager has said both Walcott and Podolski can play in the strikers role and the transfer window reopens in five weeks.

Despite the manager saying he probably won't be signing a striker in January I still think he will do all he can to bring one in. There has been some talk of Thierry Henry returning yet again on loan as he is currently training with the team. I really can't see it happening but I have no doubt his presence on the training ground will be a real boost to some of the other players. He can do an awful lot to help some of those players and just having a true legend like him on the training ground must be great for team spirit.

Football is a simple game and doing the simple things the right way usually leads to a good result. If Arsenal can go out tomorrow night and play their own game I have no doubt they will get the win they want and put themselves in a prime position to make it through to the knockout stages.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow. 

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