Wenger says the two games against Marseille will be vital for Arsenal’s qualification hopes and fans who don’t want a repeat of last season’s second round draw know results in these two fixtures will go a long way in deciding the group topper.
Nevertheless, I have a feeling Arsene will rotate some of his players and I support that wholeheartedly. Le Boss has modified his rotation policies since about this time last season when Arsenal struggled on away trips to Shakhtar and Braga after making wholesale changes to the starting line-up. Making four, or at max five, changes seems fair given the resources available and would help in maintaining some continuity in a squad that is still a work-in-progress.
Another interesting point that Wenger made was that four points from these two fixtures would be enough for qualification. I believe he will go for a win at the Stade Velodrome but will take a draw.
The big question is – Which players need a rest?
Van Persie is the first name that comes to mind. De Kapitein played 90 minutes in both international games and has featured in almost all of Arsenal’s games this season. He could do with a break and Chamakh could do with a start. The Moroccan might even find it a tad easier in familiar surroundings of the French League.
Walcott and Gervinho played just the one game during the international break so they should be fairly fresh. However, one gets the feeling the home game will be more of a must win for Arsenal so they will probably have to play three games in succession during that time which includes an away trip to Chelsea. Arsene might choose to rest one of the two in this game and leave the other one on the bench against Stoke. Arshavin could start in both games as he didn’t have that much of an exertion last weekend. He can also leave both of them on the bench with Benayoun getting the nod on the right.
The midfield choices are tricky. Without Song Arsenal are not as solid but if I am not mistaken the Cameroonian featured in both of his country’s games. Arteta didn’t and should be fresher. Rosicky missed one game due to a niggle and his injury record is always a concern. On the other hand Little Mozart played as well as he has for a long, long time last Sunday. It would be tempting to keep him in the starting line-up. Ramsey is back from a minor injury and would also be keen to start. Benayoun, if he doesn’t start on the wing, will be another option for the midfield. Finally, young Coquelin will fancy his chances, especially on the back of his Ligue 1 experience on loan last season.
At the back, Mertesacker played in both internationals so he could do with a break. Djourou could partner Koscielny who didn’t feature for France. Santos and Jenkinson will have to start. Szczesny should also be in good shape.
Preferred starting line-up,
Szczesny – Jenkinson, Djourou, Koscielny, Santos – Coquelin, Arteta, Benayoun – Walcott, Chamakh, Arshavin.
I believe that side will have a fair bit of continuity and will also give game time to some players that need it. Others will get a necessary break.
Tactically, Arsenal’s single biggest concern will be counter-attacks. Marseille have pace on the break and players who are at a high level technically. They will ask a lot more of the Arsenal defence from open play than Sunderland did. On the positive side, their set-pieces might not be that big of a threat but that’s a risky comment to make as the Gunners can make any free-kick look dangerous.
A dodgy off-side trap will be punished in this game so the defenders will have to get it right.
I believe Marseille will try to pass the ball more than many of the teams in the Premier League and this could work to Arsenal’s advantage if the Gunners use the space effectively. Arshavin and Walcott can both be potent weapons when there are gaps in the attacking areas.
Since the starting line-up could vary significantly from the one I’ve mentioned, it’s hard to say how this game will turn out in terms of goals. If Marseille get into a rhythm early on, I am not convinced this side has the confidence to turn things around. Although quality on the bench can be pivotal, it will not be useful if the side cannot control the pattern of play. In the other European games a quick start off the blocks has helped the Gunners and one would certainly hope for more of the same. The hosts are struggling in their domestic league and might have confidence issues of their own.
A win will be an excellent result, a draw acceptable, but a defeat will put qualification in doubt especially if Dortmund do well in their game.
On an unrelated note, I want to end with a link to another statistical piece for Epl Index. In this one I have analyzed some numbers from Sunderland’s last two visits to the Emirates.