Arsenal kick off their 2013/14 European Champions League group stage campaign with a trip to France when they meet Marseille at the Stade Velodrome on Wednesday September 18. The Gunners have been hot ever since their opening day disappointment with five straight wins, including a pair of clean sheets against Fenerbahce in the Champions League qualifying stage. They currently sit in second place in the Premier League with nine points, just one behind Liverpool.
Group F is arguably the toughest group in the competition with Arsenal, Marseille, Borussia Dortmund, and Napoli all battling it out for the top two spots and advancement into the next round. Arsenal has managed to reach the final 16 for 13 years in a row, reaching the semifinals in 2008/09 and the final in 2005/06. Each and every game is very important, especially the home contests and most of the pressure will be on the French side here.
Marseille didn’t make the Champions League last season, but are off to a decent start in Ligue 1 action this year with one loss in five games even though they’re winless in their last pair. They sit in fourth position with three wins, a draw and a loss for 10 points. They managed to make it as far as the quarterfinals of the Champions League in the 2011/12 season before being ousted from it by Bayern Munich.
Their home ground hasn’t been much of an advantage in their past four Champions League games though as Marseille has lost three of them and have won only two of the last six. They also had a tough time in Europe last season as they didn’t get past the group stage in the Europa League. Overall though, things look brighter for them when you consider Marseille has lost only once in their past 10 home matches with seven wins and two draws to go along with it.
The Gunners have climbed back on the right track after the opening day loss to Aston Villa 3-1 at home, but their schedule hasn’t exactly been too tough other than the North London derby home win over Tottenham. In all Champions League competitions, Arsenal has been beaten just once in their last five away matches with three of them being wins and the other a draw.
In fact, Arsenal has been in fine form away from the Emirates in all competitions with nine consecutive victories to their name and 11 wins in their past dozen road encounters. To top things off, they’ve allowed just three goals against in their last nine games away from home. They’ve been led by the excellent goal scoring exploits of Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud so far this season, but sooner or later they’re going to need other players to start chipping in.
The Gunners tangled with Marseille in the group stage of the Champions League a couple of seasons ago with Arsenal winning 1-0 away on a late Ramsey goal and the home showdown ending 0-0. Look for this match to be another close encounter. It’ll likely be a low-scoring affair and one goal could win it for either side.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger will have to do without the services of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Lukas Podolski and Abou Diaby. The team may also be without midfielders Tomas Rosicky, Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla along with striker Yaya Sanogo. However, newcomer Mesut Ozil should make his Champions League debut with the squad.
The good news is team captain Thomas Vermaelen returned to the fold on the weekend in the 3-1 win at Sunderland and Giroud should also be fit enough to play after taking a knock to his knee in Sunderland. Marseille more or less has a healthy squad heading into the match with center back Souleymane Diawara being the only player likely to miss out.