Stade Velodrome, Marseille
18th September, 19:45 BST
Marseille host Arsenal at the Stade Velodrome in their first match of this season’s Champions’ League group stage. Group F is undoubtedly the group of death and every points earned will carry massive significance in the final standings. With Napoli and Dortmund going head-to-head in the other clash in this group, it is an opportunity for both this teams to get an early lead.
The last fixture between these two clubs in the Champions League was back in 2011, when these two sides were in the same group, along with Dortmund and Olympiakos. Arsenal won their match at home against Marseille, courtesy of an Aaron Ramsey goal, but were contained to a draw in the return leg.
Marseille made a good start to their domestic league campaign, and were at the top of the table for few days. But they are coming into this fixture on the back of defeat at the hands of current league leaders Monaco, followed by a draw away to Toulouse.
Elie Baup is without Souleymane Diawara, who is injured presently. He is expected to make only one change to the starting line-up that was fielded against Toulouse in their last game. Andre Ayew will return to the starting line-up after missing out in the last game due to suspension, which means Florian Thauvin will drop back to the bench. Diawara’s injury means Mendes and N’Koulou will continue their partnership at the back.
Both Payet and Gignac have been in very fine form this season and the duo have scored three goals each in five league games so far. Valbuena, who was once heavily linked with Arsenal, pulls the strings in attack and Marseille depends mostly upon him to open up defences with his passing. Elie Baup would have noted down Arsenals’ defensive weakness in the wide areas and will instruct Payet and Ayew to exploit the full-backs.
Expected Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1) – Mandanda (GK); Morel, Medes, N’Koulou, Fanni; Imbula, Romao; Payet, Valbuena, Ayew; Gignac
Arsenal have recovered brilliant from their much criticized opening day loss at the hands of Aston Villa at home. The Gunners are currently second in the league table having won their last five matches in all competition – including a comfortable two legged win over Fenerbahce in the Champions League qualifiers. Arsene Wenger knows that Marseille is probably their weakest opponent in this group and his team needs to get a result in this match.
But Arsene Wenger has a long injury list to contain with ahead of this fixture. Santi Cazorla, Tomas Rosicky, Abou Diaby, Mikel Arteta, Alex Oxalde-Chamberlain, Lukas Podolski and Yaya Sanogo are all injured and out of contention for this game. Per Mertesacker will however return to the starting line-up alongside Koscielny at the back, which means Jenkinson will drop the bench as Sagna moves back to the right back spot. Luckily for the fans, Olivier Giroud is fit and ready to lead the line, after facing an injury scare in their last game.
This means Wenger is likely to make only one change to the line-up that faced Sunderland. Mesut Ozil will making his European debut for the Gunners and after an impressive debut in the Premier League last weekend, fans will be hoping for some more fireworks from him. Giroud, who has been in fine goal scoring form this season, will hope to score on his return to France. Aaron Ramsey has been Arsenal’s best player so far this season and will once again be a key figure in the midfield.
Expected Starting Line-Up (4-2-3-1) – Szczesny (GK); Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs; Flamini, Ramsey; Walcott, Ozil, Wilshere; Giroud
Prediction: Marseille 1-2 Arsenal
Players to watch out for: Mathieu Valbuena (Marseille); Mesut Ozil (Arsenal)
Blast from the past