What: Champions League – Group F
Who: Marseille vs Arsenal
When: Wednesday 19th October, 2011 at 19:45 UK time
Where: Stade Velodrome, Marseille, France
Leading the group with two wins out of two, Marseille prepare to welcome English club Arsenal from across the Channel, with their eyes firmly secured on the group’s pole position. The French side have an encouraging record in the competition so far and have what it takes to usurp the Gunners in this clash.
With four goals scored and none conceded, the 1993 edition winners’ Champions League form stands in contrast to a horrific Ligue 1 run that sees the side in 15th place with nine points after ten matches. However, domestic and continental form rarely stand apart for long periods for any team, and Marseille will have to once again turn over a new leaf here to take another step towards qualification.
Having never lost on French soil to a French side, Arsenal hold the psychological advantage over their hosts. The performance of Didier Deschamps’ team in the win over German champions Borussia Dortmund though shows that they can stun the 2004 Premier League winners. After guiding Monaco to the 2004 Champions League final and handing Marseille their first Ligue 1 title in 18 years two years ago, the 1998 World Cup winner has what it takes to make it happen.
The Right Track
Under the microscope following a loss to bitter rivals Tottenham Hotspur, Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal were in desperate need of a win to boost their morale ahead of this important clash against Marseille; that came at the expense of Sunderland, who could not contain Robin van Persie, who scored a brace, as Steve Bruce’s men eventually succumbed to a 2-1 defeat.
Van Persie’s goals against the Black Cats inevitably paved the way towards the resurfacing rumours that envisioned the Dutchman’s future away from the Emirates stadium, particularly at nouveau-riche Manchester City.
Speaking after the game, Wenger was full of praise of his skipper’s efforts, while refusing to confirm or deny his presence at the club in the future: “Robin was exceptional. When you analyse the game you see just how important he is. The first chance was created by the play of the team and, with the second chance, he made the difference with his skill. The ideal situation is that he extends his contract and if he doesn’t you have to respect that. What is important is he plays how he plays”, concluded the Frenchman.
While the Premier League crown may realistically be out of Arsenal’s reach this season, the win over Sunderland might just have given them the motivation needed to come back from France as group leaders.
Marseille 3-0 Borussia Dortmund (28/09; Champions League)
Marseille 1-1 Brest (02/10; Ligue 1)
Toulouse 0-0 Marseille (15/10; Ligue 1)
Arsenal 2-1 Olympiacos (28/09; Champions League)
Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 Arsenal (02/10; Premier League)
Arsenal 2-1 Sunderland (16/10; Premier League)
Marseille: Djimi Traore; Stephane Mbia; Jordan Ayew (suspended)
Arsenal: Bacary Sagna; Thomas Vermaelen; Jack Wilshere; Abou Diaby; Aaron Ramsey (doubt); Johan Djourou; Kieran Gibbs (doubt)
Players to watch
Marseille – Steve Mandanda: Marseille’s captain will have to be at his absolute best when facing Van Persie, Andrei Arshavin and Mikel Arteta. Marseille’s defence might have been perfect so far, but it is bound to break sooner rather or later, which means that Mandanda and the French side’s back-four will be in for a hard time.
Arsenal – Robin van Persie: The undisputed star of the team following the departures of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri this past summer, Van Persie has shown since then that he is more than capable of carrying the captain’s armband. Away from home with the group’s Champions League challenge on the line, he will be expected to lead by example.
Arsenal might have momentum in their favour following a victory in the Premier League, but that will not mean that their visit to southern France will be a walk in the park. Marseille have showed signs of promise so far and are not likely to surrender just yet. A 1-1 score at the end of 90 minutes seems likely.