Champions League tactical preview: Arsenal v Marseille

Arsenal came away from Marseille with three points in September. Photo: PA

Group F is still very competitive with three teams still capable of topping the table. Arsenal's win in Dortmund was their best result of the season in all competitions and went someway to defy the critics. Arsene Wenger's team bounced back from the disappointment of Old Trafford to record a victory over high-flying Southampton at the weekend. This leaves them four points ahead of the pack domestically with Cardiff, Hull and Everton approaching, there's every chance they can preserve if not stretch their advantage before a difficult Christmas period.

With an away trip to Naples on the final match-day, the Gunners will look to get the job done here and there's no reason why they can't register a comfortable victory. Despite the pessimism of Marseille's tournament this year, they did perform well at the Stade Vélodrome when the clubs last met. Having created more chances than the visitors the French side needed to be a little more clinical in front of goal.

Unfortunately for Marseille they have become the whipping boys of the group having failed to register a single point. They concede an average of 2.5 goals per game and two of the four goals they have scored in this seasons Champions League were by the now injured André Ayew. Having lost seven consecutive games including qualifiers in the competition, they travel to London devoid of confidence and hope.

Wenger takes training ahead of Arsenal v Marseille. Credit: PA

Consistent first-eleven

Eight players have begun the four Champions League games to date, enabling Arsenal to maintain a solid core. Their record of the best defence in the group is largely down to no changes within the back-four or in between the posts. Some of the choices further up the pitch have been made easier by necessity due to a large number of casualties and because Nicklas Bendtner has never lived up to his own hype.

Marseille anchorman Giannelli Imbula is wanted by Chelsea for a mooted £25 million, but the 21 year-old has had to make do with a place on the bench for the recent wins. Benoit Cheyrou is back alongside Jacques-Alaixys Romao in the double pivot, they have only lost to Napoli when the two have partnered each other. André-Pierre Gignac repaid the restored faith shown by manager Élie Baup with a volley on the turn against Ajaccio on Friday night that was an early contender for goal of the season. All 14 league matches have featured the same five players from the start.

Defensive differences

Whilst Arsenal's title credentials continue to be questioned, their solidarity at the back cannot be. Conceding just three goals in the previous six outings does seem even more impressive when considering the opposition; away trips to Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund, with shut outs at the Emirates against the current Premier League top five teams Southampton and Liverpool. The combination of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesaker has given the central defence stability, with Koscielny tenacious in the tackle and superb at anticipating the interception, counter balanced by the Germans positioning and ability on the ball.

The end of September was the last time Marseille kept a clean sheet, then came a run of five straight defeats. Results have improved with back-to-back wins, but keeper Steve Mandanda is still being beaten on a regular basis.

Mertesacker and Koscielny have been brilliant for Arsenal this season. Credit: PA


Although known for their slick passing and interchanging of players, Arsenal's resilience in the air has grown in recent seasons. The acquisitions of Mertesaker and Oliver Giroud has certainly helped, along with the improvement of goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny when it comes to claiming the ball from set-pieces. At 60.4% they have the highest aerial dual's won percentage of the four teams and also display the fourth highest in England's top flight with 53.4%. Although Marseille matched them in the past it's an area where they have performed poorly throughout the campaign. They are by no means a small team with the exception of Mathieu Valbuena, but they don't display any players above the 190cm mark like the three aforementioned for Arsenal. Mertesaker's importance was shown a fortnight ago when Robin Van Persie headed in a corner against his former club.

Attacking thrust

With injuries to a number of midfield options both defensively and attacking during the course of the season, Tomas Rosicky has become something of an old-fashioned utility player appearing in four positions. The Czech rarely lasts 90 minutes, but his experience has become important in the bigger matches, with three of his seven starts happening in Europe. With Jack Wilshire playing the full match versus Southampton last Saturday, Rosicky will likely be part of the starting eleven.

The left-hand side of Marseille's attack could cause Bacary Sagna some problems, as no team in the entire Ligue 1 is as reliant on that side of the pitch as Baup's men. André Ayew was first choice out wide, but the injury he sustained for Ghana has ruled him out for a minimum of six weeks. Dimitri Payet has switched wings and is starting to create goals as well as score them.

Andre Ayew will not feature for Marseille at the Emirates. Credit: PA

Key battles: Kieran Gibbs v Florian Thauvin

Thauvin has four goals in five games in all competitions for Marseille and scored a hat-trick for France U21's in their match with Armenia last week. The 20 year-old winger is naturally left-footed and likes to cut inside to create scoring opportunities. If as expected Arsenal has the ascendancy in terms of possession, then Gibbs will have to keep a watchful eye that the young Frenchman doesn't take advantage of the space left vacated by his overlapping runs.