Daily Archives: September 18, 2013
The Champions League began in earnest yesterday with a host of clubs across Europe putting up stellar performances as Matchday 1 hit center stage. England’s Manchester-based representatives have throw down the gauntlet for their London rivals as both sides kicked off their European campaigns with resounding victories. While the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and his Real Madrid cohorts ripped Galatasaray to shreds, Juventus could only save their faces from an upset when they salvaged a draw against FC Copenhagen.
Tonight, the much talked-about ‘Group of Death’ will be on the spotlight as last season’s finalists, Borussia Dortmund, take on Rafa Benitez’ new look SSC Napoli side while Arsene Wenger and his men on form visit familiar territory to take on Olympique Marseille. Arsenal’s last visit to the Stade Velodrome was in the 2011/12 campaign and all it took was a last-gasp Aaron Ramsey drive to clinched the tie for the Gunners.
Ramsey has been on phenomenal form all season long and the Gunners would hope that his rich vein of form continues. Arsene Wenger has even stated that he’s not surprised by Ramsey’s inspired form as he has shown that he’s willing to learn, work hard and improve his game massively. Ramsey no longer over complicates things with unnecessary back heels, dribbles and unwanted improvised moves but all he does recently are the simple things – passing the ball to a teammate close by, showing off his amazing work rate and most importantly, getting into the right positions to score vital goals.
Arsene Wenger has set a target of 10 points in the group as he believes that every team here has a good chance of qualifying to the next round. With difficult games against Dortmund and Napoli still to come, Arsenal has to capitalize on what is perceived as the ‘weakest team’ in this Group of Death. Marseille’s manager, Eric Baup, has acknowledged that Arsenal has a more superior team but he believes his team can get something out of the game if they stick together,
“We know that we have to show the courage, have to invest ourselves, individually they have better players, but we have to be a strong team.
“When a club can pay 50 million Euros for a player like Ozil and bring such a quality player, it is very good for them.
“But I think we have recruited well, brought in some young players and we’re trying to build something for the short and mid-term. “We have some experienced players that can teach these young players and build for the future.”
Marseille might have fallen from glory in the Ligue 1 following the emergence of the petro-greens of Paris St. Germain, but they also lost to another free-spending side last weekend, as Radamel Falcao scored in AS Monaco’s 2-1 away win over Marseille. They may not be in the best run of form but with players like Dimitri Payet and Andre-Pierre Gignac, the Gunners would have to be on their guard if they want to get anything out of the game.
To injury news, the hosts have a fully fit team to pick from but the only notable absence would be the loss of their key center back, Souleymane Diawara. The visitors have their own fair share of injury problems with the usual suspects, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee), Santi Cazorla (ankle), Lukas Podolski (hamstring) and Mikel Arteta (thigh), Yaya Sanogo (back), Abou Diaby (knee) and Tomas Rosicky (hamstring) are expected to be unavailable.
And there is also doubt over the participation of in-form French forward Olivier Giroud, who was substituted in Arsenal’s 3-1 win at Sunderland on Saturday with a knee injury. With a player as key as Giroud vital in Arsenal’s surge for a trophy this season, he will have to face a late fitness test to know if he will be available for selection, but if he can’t make it, the manager would have to make do with Theo Walcott in attack.
The Englishman hasn’t reached the heights expected of him so far this season but every Arsenal fan knows what he can do when he’s on form. It’s every day you score 21 goals in a campaign.
To team news, I’d expected Wojciech Szczesny to continue in goal while the likes of Lukasz Fabianski and Emiliano Viviano will have to wait for the Capital One Cup encounter against West Brom to get their chances. In defense, Per Mertesacker has returned from the ailment that sidelined him in the weekend, so he will return to the starting XI alongside Laurent Koscielny, whose clumsiness cost Arsenal dearly in the weekend.
With Thomas Vermaelen on his way to full fitness, the last thing Koscielny would want to do would be to mess up because his manager can be very ruthless when the need arises for the good of the team. Mertesacker’s return to the center would allow Bacary Sagna to be drafted back to his favored right back position with Kieran Gibbs strutting his stuff on the left.
In midfield, the fulcrum of Mathieu Flamini and Aaron Ramsey worked wonders in the weekend and while Ramsey took all the plaudits for his brace, the Flanimal was the team’s unsung hero, making vital interceptions and organizing the team during set pieces. He has certainly learned how to talk in Italy. Jack Wilshere has been having some injury concerns but he would be the one to get the nod for the attacking midfield slot.
In attack, all eyes would be firmly fixed on the German sensation, Mesut Ozil, that enjoyed a magnificent debut against Sunderland and the fans would be hoping to see more of those delicious passes that tore open Sunderland’s defense like hot knife through butter. He would have preferred to start in the hole behind the striker but like the Sunderland game, I’d expect him to alternate with Wilshere.
With Ozil, Wilshere and Ramsey offering their creative talent tonight, Arsenal fans would hope that Walcott brings his scoring boots tonight because Giroud has been wearing his for a long while now.
Here’s what both probable lineups would look like,
Per Mertesacker believes that mentality is key to Arsenal’s form. Let’s hope that the form continues.
Enjoy the game wherever you are.
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