Marseille v Arsenal: Analysis of tonight's Champions League opponents
A look at how the French club shape-up ahead of tonight's match at the Stade Velodrome
Arsenal have been tasked with the trickiest fixture for the English clubs in the opening round of Champions League fixtures, with the Gunners facing a trip to the south of France to take on Marseille.
The two met at the same stage two years ago, with the tie at the Stade Velodrome finishing 1-0 to the visitors thank to an injury time Aaron Ramsey strike.
But how does the French side shape up to tackle the north London side this time round?
On the face of it, their side isn’t as strong as the one that lined up opposite the Gunners in 2011 – ironically Borussia Dortmund were also in the same group much like this year – as current Premier League stars Cesar Azpilicueta and Loic Remy have since left the club.
Their first-team has a predominantly French feel to it, with just six players of the 23-man squad they have named for the Champions League ineligible for the Les Tricolores, and all of those six are currently African internationals.
The 2011 fixtures were the only time these two sides have met, with Marseille leaving the Emirates with a well-earned draw less than a week after suffering the late defeat.
But despite a few of their key players leaving the club, their squad has remained largely intact, and it is this consistency that has seen them regain their Champions League position after finishing second in last season’s Ligue 1, 12 points behind eventual winners Paris Saint-Germain.
Their star attraction is no doubt French winger Mathieu Valbuena, with the diminutive 28-year-old having played 289 times for Les Phoceens, scoring 35 goals in his time in Province.
Aside from the 5 ft 6 in Valbuena, Marseille can look to fellow Frenchmen Andre-Pierre Gignac and Florian Thauvin to pose a threat to Arsene Wenger’s side, while Ghanaian midfielder Andre Ayew, who had been linked with a summer switch to the Premier League, but insisted he rejected a move because he is enjoying life in Marseille, will also look to attack from the midfield
Both Newcastle and Liverpool were said to be interested in Ayew, whose brother Jordan also plays for the French side.
Despite only playing twice in their past, Arsenal should be used to Marseille by now, with current midfielder Mathieu Flamini beginning his career with the club before moving to the Gunners for his first spell in London. They also signed former stars Samir Nasri and Robert Pires from the Ligue 1 club, while arch nemesis Didier Drogba spent a season with the club before joining Chelsea in 2004.
Wenger should be in a confident mood though, as his side are yet to lose on French soil against a French side. There is one painful memory across the channel for the Frenchman though - Arsenal’s 2006 Champions League final defeat to Barcelona, which took place at the Stade de France in Paris.
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