Arsenal look to kick-start their Champions League campaign with a win against Marseille at the Stade Velodrome on Wednesday. But the road to glory will not be an easy one, as the Gunners find themselves in the formidable ‘Group of Death’.
Arsenal have been drawn alongside Marseille, Napoli and last year’s finalists Borussia Dortmund in Group F. This is a tough group with all teams looking strong in their respective leagues.
Dortmund, who just missed out on the trophy last year losing to Bayern Munich 2-1 in the final, look to be the favourites to top the group. Despite the loss of Mario Gotze to their rivals, they have managed to keep goalscorer Robert Lewandoski. With a strong squad at their disposable they are hopeful to make a return to the finals, this time coming out as winners.
This leaves the other three teams to battle it out for the remaining spot to proceed to the knockout stage. For me, Arsenal are the favourites. Arsene Wenger has experience in the Champions League, this being his sixteenth consecutive season in the competition. During this time his team have only reached the final once, in 2006, but lost 2-1 to Barcelona.
The expertise from the manager is there but does the squad have the ability to progress? I think the squad does have the potential to go far, but it is the lack of squad depth Wenger must have concerns about.
It is vital Arsenal get off to a flying start with an important win over Marseille. For me, they are the weak link in the group, however it is always crucial that opponents do not take them lightly.
Arsenal have quickly bounced back after a poor and shocking opening game to their season after a 3-1 loss to Aston Villa. With three straight wins, the side currently sit in second place in the table. With players like Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud in form, they are looking for them to produce once again after some great performances from the pair. Although Giroud did pick up an ankle injury on Saturday, there is still a chance the Frenchman will be available to play. Another big player with good Champions League experience is Mesut Ozil, who transferred to Arsenal from Real Madrid for a fee of £42.5 million. The German international teased Arsenal fans in his debut in a 3-1 win against Sunderland on Saturday with a decent performance, taking no more than 11 minutes to claim his first Premier League assist for his new club. Fans and players will be looking for him to produce.
Despite a lot of quality, there is a danger due to key players out of action. With Cazorla, Podolski, Chamberlain and Arteta all unavailable it is important that the players remain fit, but that Wenger does not put out too much of a weakened side. Should Giroud fail a fitness test, it is likely Theo Walcott will play upfront; what a blow that would be for the Gunners as they will need Giroud’s goal scoring ability.
In contrast, Marseille have near enough a fully fit squad at their disposal. The French side currently stand in fourth place respectively. Having faced Arsenal before in the Champions League in 2011, they have some experience, but may lack the quality to cause Arsenal too many problems, particularly in midfield. However, playing at home will give them a strong advantage with great support from noisy fans. A key player will be new signing Dimitri Payet who will look to trouble Arsenal with pace and good technique on the ball.
A big game for Arsenal, but one they should be winning to prove they can back up the statement from signing Ozil in that they can compete in major competitions. An early goal will be important to gain a foothold in the match. A vital three points will set them up nicely for tougher games in a tricky group.
My Prediction: 2-1 Arsenal.