Arsenal vs. Marseille
Tuesday, November 26, 2013; 2:45pm EST/11:45am PST
Emirates Stadium, London
Champions League Form: ARS: WWLW / MAR: LLLL
TV: Fox Sports 2
Arsenal are locked in a two-way tie for first place with Napoli, with nine points earned from four matches, heading into tomorrow's match versus winless, pointless Marseille. While nothing is ever a certainty, Arsenal and its supporters should expect a win tomorrow versus a squad who's attempting to get past a dreadful October and first-half of November (zero wins, one draw, six losses), and now must deal with Andre Ayew facing eight weeks off due to a knee injury suffered while on international duty.
The best-case scenario for tomorrow's matches is an Arsenal win paired with a Napoli victory at Dortmund. In this situation, Arsenal and Napoli qualify for the Knockout Rounds before the last group stage match; while we always want Arsenal to win, they could still finish first in the group while suffering a loss at Napoli, based on Champions League tiebreaker rules (which are a convoluted mess), depending on the final scoreline.
The worst-case scenario has Arsenal losing tomorrow coupled with a Dortmund win. That puts three teams at nine points. Dortmund travels to Marseille for the final group stage match as the decided favorites and more than likely earning three points from that encounter, which would put them at 12 points total and securing one of two Knockout Round spots. Arsenal will then need to travel away to Stadio San Paolo, whose doors will now apparently be open and where the locals gather to chant in mass unison and generally intimidate everyone, and secure at least a draw in this scenario to move on to the Knockout Round:
Yeah, very cool and all, but I'd rather not have to deal with that sort of pressure and environment while fighting to secure advancement into the Knockout Rounds. So how about Arsenal and Napoli win tomorrow so we can at least be assured of advancement before our trip to Naples, yes?
Anyway, enough about scenarios and more about tomorrow's match and opponent.
Marseille, as mentioned above, will be without Ayew tomorrow. But they also now will be without Dimitri Payet, as he injured himself in last Friday's win versus Ajaccio and won't travel with the squad today to London. Those two injuries are bad enough for Marseille, as both players have a combined eight goals in all competitions. But unfortunately for Marseille, that's not the end of it. They face the possibility that Mathieu Valbuena and Andre-Pierre Gignac will miss tomorrow's match due to both suffering injuries in the Ajaccio match. If both end up playing, it appears they'll be battling injuries during the course of the match.
In all honesty, Arsenal played an indifferent match versus a heady Southampton but still managed to secure the win while scoring two goals versus a side that had only allowed a total of five in all previous league matches. Normally I try to stay as pessimistic as possible so in case the worst happens I'm mentally prepared to deal with the ensuing fallout. However, I fail to see how Arsenal loses or draws against Marseille, a side who potentially face the prospects of playing tomorrow without the majority of their main attacking options. As outlined earlier, they've had a terrible run of matches as of late (albeit, they're still in 4th place in Ligue 1), and considering the stakes and consequences at hand for Arsene Wenger and his players, there's little reason to suggest Arsenal don't come out with a win.
Sagna - Mertesacker - Koscielny - Gibbs
Flamini - Arteta
Ramsey - Ozil - Pires
Prediction: Arsenal 3-0 Marseille. The King and Robert Pires return on a one-day loan because why the hell not; Titi nets a hat-trick from three beautifully-placed passes from Pires, the only man who can challenge Olivier Giroud's incredible sexiness. The reunion of the two players makes the fans inside the Emirates lose their minds and is the direct cause of many unplanned pregnancies in and around North London later that night.