Mesut Ozil celebrates with Olivier Giroud. Image courtesy of skysports.com
After a disastrous start to the campaign when a very quiet off-season in the transfer market was followed by an awful 3-1 home loss to Aston Villa, plenty of pundits were calling for the head of Arsene Wenger. In a short space of time, Arsenal’s fortunes have turned full circle; star attacking midfielder Mesut Ozil signed from Real Madrid; the Gunners picked up three straight wins in the Premier League; and a 6-1 two-leg rout of Fenerbahce sees them once again in the group stage of the UEFA Champions League.
Arsenal has made it past the Champions League group stage in each and every one of the past 13 seasons but this will be one of its toughest challenges to date. Last year’s runner-up Borussia Dortmund heads Group F with Napoli and Marseille set to provide stern tests for the north London side, particularly away from home. Those examinations begin on Thursday morning (AEST) when the Gunners travel to the Stade Veledrome in the south of France, taking on a Marseille side which has gathered three wins and a draw from its first five Ligue 1 fixtures this season.
Wenger’s side heads in to this game with a host of injury concerns. Ozil debuted last week and played 80 minutes, but he was ill prior to the 3-1 win over Sunderland and also suffering from muscle tightness, so he isn’t a guaranteed starter across the Channel. Alongside long-term absentees Lukas Podolski (hamstring) and Abou Diaby (knee), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee), Santi Cazorla (ankle) and Mikel Arteta (thigh) are all set to miss the match. Yaya Sanogo (back) and Thomas Rosicky (hamstring) could also be left out. There are also lingering doubts over in-form Frenchman Oliver Giroud. He has scored in all four Premier League games this season, but he was substituted in Saturday’s win because of a knee injury.
Marseille was bundled out of the Europa League last season at the group stage after winning just one game, although solid opposition in the form of Fenerbahce and Borussia Monchengladbach progressed from Group C. Ellie Baup’s side finished second in Ligue 1 last season, 12 points behind cashed-up Paris Saint-Germain.
These sides also found themselves boxed in Group F two years ago, as did Borussia Dortmund. Arsenal and Marseille progressed in first and second place, respectively. They drew 0-0 at Emirates Stadium but the Gunners triumphed 1-0 away from home thanks to an Aaron Ramsey winner. Arsenal lost to Montpellier 2-1 on its only visit to France last season.
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