The tag has become a bit of a cliché, almost to the point where you can’t have a football tournament without one, but with Arsenal facing last year’s finalists and current Bunesdliga top dogs Borussia Dortmund and Serie A table toppers Napoli, as well as Wednesday’s French opponents Marseille, the sobriquet ‘Group of Death’ may well fit for the north London club.
It’s probably the most difficult of the eight Champions’ League groups assembled by the draw a couple of weeks ago, and the enormity of the task to qualify from it is not lost on the French club’s international goalkeeper Steve Mandanda. Quoted in The Mirror online, he says "This Champions’ League group is terrific. For any club to progress, every game must be like a final and you have to win your home games. Unless you do that, you have no chance.” The comment points up the value of the Gunners returning from the south of France with at least a point.
Currently on a decent run of form however, Arsenal are fired by new record signing Mesut Ozil, and the inform striker Olivier Giroud, they will go to the Stade Velodrome in justifiably confident manner. It’s a point that Mandanda recognizes. "Giroud is in sensational form. We have to stop them from scoring and creating danger but that will not be easy. They look a very strong team. Now Ozil has increased Arsenal's level in attack. His arrival has taken Arsenal to another level and he is perfect for the style of football and play that Wenger likes. I never expected Real Madrid to allow him to leave."
It is perhaps however in defence that the Gunners may have to take heed. Marseille currently lie fourth in Ligue 1, nicely tucked in behind big spending Monaco and PSG, plus surprise early season contenders St Etienne, after a 1-1 away draw in Toulouse on Saturday. That result followed their only reverse of the season to date when Caludio Ranieri’s Monaco, took a 1-2 away win back to the principality. Manager Elie Baup has two in form strikers to call on in Gignac and Andre Ayew, both who have scored three goals from five outings this term.
With this in mind, the Gunners will be grateful for the experience of Per Mertersacker, who is likely to be restored to the starting eleven after missing the game at Sunderland over the weekend due to illness. Without him in the back line, it’s certainly true that the Arsenal defence appears less assured, as was exposed on Saturday. A clumsy penalty was conceded and only a bizarre refereeing error prevented Altidore from scoring past Szczesny.
Whilst the game will certainly not be straightforward for the Gunners, with away trips to Dortmund and Naples awaiting Arsene Wenger will doubtless be targeting this game as the away fixture with the best potential for points. Should Arsenal secure a draw, it would be the minimum result that both Napoli and Dortmund will be expecting to achieve when they visit the south of France. Such a result would therefore be the minimum required if Wenger has realistic aspirations of ousting one of these clubs from the tournament. A win however, which is certainly not beyond the Gunners’ reach, would set a stamp on the group and give Arsenal every chance of qualification.