Champions League: Arsenal stretched to the limit ahead of clash with Marseille

Rosicky, Cazorla, Diaby, Podolski, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Bendtner, Arteta and Sanogo are all nursing ailments


There was an uneasy juxtaposition here last night as Arsène Wenger heralded the start of what he believes is the toughest Champions League group of all by warning his squad is already threadbare through injury. The Gunners arrived in Provence ahead of their Group F opener against Marseilles without eight first-team players and a paucity of options on the bench.

Tomas Rosicky, Santi Cazorla, Abou Diaby, Lukas Podolski, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Nicklas Bendtner, Mikel Arteta and Yaya Sanogo are all nursing various ailments ahead of a match that marks the start of six games in 19 days before the next international break.

Follow the latest news and score from tonight's match - LIVE!

Wenger received some good news today when striker Olivier Giroud passed a fitness test and defender Per Mertesacker shook off an illness, but with Bendtner convalescing after thigh surgery, 17-year-old forward Chuba Akpom will be among the substitutes at the Stade Vélodrome this evening.

But the manager's concerns ahead of such a hectic schedule are palpable, especially given the importance of starting well in this competition with the bigger threats of Napoli and Borussia Dortmund lying in wait.

"Of course, I am concerned because we play now for two months every three or four days and it is important we get some players back because you cannot play for the next two months with the squad we have at the moment," said Wenger.

"If you look at the group, I would say yes, it is the hardest group because all the four teams have a chance to qualify. That means that every game is basically a very important one.

"On average you need 10 points to qualify so that gives you the task. Ten points in a group as difficult as that could be a reasonable number to get through."

Arsenal can draw considerable comfort from their remarkable away form, an improvement over the last six months which has been inextricably linked to this competition.

Victory against Bayern Munich in March may have not been enough to reach the last eight but beating the eventual winners sparked something in this team that propelled them on a run to leapfrog Tottenham in the Premier League, securing fourth place and another crack at Europe's elite.

They have been invincible away from home ever since. They set a record of nine successive wins on the road in easing past Sunderland last weekend and arrived in Provence last night aiming to make it a perfect 10.

"[We are] an exceptional team" said Mertesacker. "That's the main thing. We built up confidence from last season, especially the last 10 games where we didn't lose anything.

"You could feel it from the first day that there is something special in this team, apart from the first game [against Aston Villa], but no one dropped and the performance went well after that as well. We have shown so far that we are ready to keep our confidence and keep the run going."

They have, however, lost six of their last 14 away games in the Champions League and know anything other than victory here will limit the margin for error against more vaunted opposition.

Aaron Ramsey scored a stoppage-time winner on Arsenal's previous visit two years ago and similar resilience is required in what looks the sternest challenge yet to their unbroken run of reaching the knockout stages, which stretches back 13 seasons.

It is one of the enduring constants at Arsenal. Just like their injury list.

Kick-off 7.45pm.

TV Sky Sports 4 (h/l: 10pm, SS1)

Referee O Benquerença (Port)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine