Arsenal have received a boost ahead of their opening Champions League match in Marseille on Tuesday with Olivier Giroud, Mesut Ozil and Per Mertesacker all being passed fit. German duo Ozil and Mertesacker had both been struggling with illness since last week. While the defender missed out on Arsenal’s 3-1 win at Sunderland on Saturday, Ozil made his debut but clearly faded in the second half. The pair have now recovered and are likely to be in the starting lineup alongside Giroud, who has returned to full training following a knee injury.
Tuesday’s match in the Stade Velodrome will be Arsenal’s first foray into the Champions League since going out of last season’s competition at the hands of eventual winners Bayern Munich, despite a 2-0 second-leg win in Germany. That match saw captain Thomas Vermaelen dropped from the side and the Belgian has yet to regain his place. After spending the climax of last season on the bench, Vermaelen has been injured for the start of this campaign, although he returned to action with a substitute appearance at the weekend. And Wenger is glad to have him back.
“He is naturally a left-sided player, more than anybody else,” he said, according to Arsenal’s official website. “His natural position is there and I like to have a central defense where you have a right-footed player and a left-footed player. That is why I always build around Thomas.
“He is a natural player, but sometimes you cannot be too complicated. It worked until now and we have another candidate as well in [Bacary] Sagna. Every game he has played there, he has done extremely well. So we have four good center backs.”
After their fine run to end last season, Arsenal ensured a 16th straight season in the groups stage of the Champions League with a comprehensive 5-0 aggregate victory over Fenerbahce in the playoff round. And following an opening day defeat to Aston Villa, Wenger’s side have now won five-straight matches in all competitions.
However, they face perhaps their toughest task yet to preserve a record of making it out of the first group stage that stretches to 13 seasons. It says much that Tuesday’s opponents, Marseille, are almost being written off as the whipping boys of Group F. But in a section that also features last year’s runners-up Borussia Dortmund and a Napoli side that have encouragingly reinvested the money recouped from Edinson Cavani’s sale, it is not a wholly unreasonable assessment.
It would be dangerous, though, for Arsenal or the other two favorites to progress to take Marseille lightly. While L’OM don’t possess the financial might of fellow Ligue 1 sides Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco to attract global stars, they have been shrewd in snapping up some of the best domestic talent.
The likes of defensive midfielder Gianelli Imbula and winger Dimitri Payet have arrived this summer to add to a squad that finished second in Ligue 1 last season. Elie Baup’s side began this campaign with three-straight wins before their only defeat to date against Monaco. A 1-1 draw at Toulouse on Saturday saw a debut for exciting, young French winger Florian Thauvin after Marseille succeeded in their public and acrimonious struggle to prize him away from Lille.
TV Details: The Champions League match between Marseille and Arsenal will kick-off at 2.45 p.m. ET, and will be shown on Fox Soccer Plus.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.