Droit au But: Olympique Marseille vs. Arsenal pre-match
So we’re back for the 16th time in a row. We fought hard for it at the end of last season, successfully went through the prequalifying round yet again, and we are finally on the eve of starting our campaign to qualify, in arguably the strongest group, against Olympique de Marseille (OM).
A weak opponent?
And indeed we are up against some tough competition – Borussia Dortmund are top of the Bundesliga with 5 wins out of 5 and Napoli are, similarly, Serie A leaders, with 3 wins out of 3.
OM on the other hand, are currently ranked 4th in the French national championship table after 5 games; and one could easily argue that the French Ligue 1 is a step down from German, Italian, Spanish leagues, and certainly the EPL. In fact, it was mostly a one-team show last season, with PSG easily cruising through, finishing 12 points ahead of Marseille, and with Lyon trailing a further 4 points behind and being a shadow of their former self.
In addition, their current 4th place may not say that much about their level. They have had 3 wins against bottom of the table teams – Guinguamp are 15th, Valenciennes are 18th, Evian are 11th (who were in the bottom 5 before their latest win against the 17th); and OM lost home to Monaco. Finally, OM were dominated in their last game by 19th ranked Toulouse, and they struggled to secure a draw against the tide at the 87th minute. Valbuena had this comment after the game: “Arsenal? With what we’ve seen tonight, we are far from there…”.
In fact, post-game articles in French newspapers and sites (unfortunately, I have only seen Marseille in short game summaries – hopefully this will give Gerry the opportunity to provide more insight) have not been very positive about the way Marseille has been playing – even on their wins – apart from a good first half against Monaco. Incidentally, another thing that transpires from game reports is that they have consistently struggled physically in the second half; they conceded all their goals after half time.
So we’re good?
“Droit au But” – Straight to the Goal – is Marseille’s maxim. It also means Straight to the Point, and OM lives by it. They play to attack, and love a good fight and high intensity cup or other challenging games – I am not surprised that their best performance was against Monaco – and their good CL qualifying round last year (finished second of their group with only Dortmund qualified) also testifies of this.
The public in Stade Vélodrome is one of the best in France and they will push hard tomorrow.
They had a good, aggressive transfer market window: they bought Dimitri Payet from Lille, probably the best attacking midfielders in France last season; and Florian Thauvin, a very talented and promising 20 year-old and £13m AM (although he just joined and might start on the bench).
Add to that the always dangerous international AM Valbuena, the fast paced wingman André Ayew, and the finally-coming-back-to-form ex-ex-international CF André-Pierre Gignac, and you realize that they are very capable on the attacking front.
If their defensive stability has been questioned lately, they still have strong athletic material there (N’Koulou, Lucas Mendes, Diawara, Rod Fanni, Imbula…) some of whom will add to the threat on set pieces. They are supported by an excellent goal keeper (Mandanda), only edged in the French national team by Lloris; and then again some value Mandanda more.
Finally, and this is the feeling with some OM supporting friends, I believe that they are seeing this game as a must win as Arsenal is potentially viewed as the weakest team (compared to Napoli and Dortmund): if you think the French press and web are different fro, the UK’s, you’re mistaken… every bloody year is the year Arsene’s team is on the brink of oblivion. Although to be honest, the mood has changed since Prince Igör joined. But I digress.
The point is that they will want those three points and they will give it all they’ve got. It’s not in the club’s genes to go for a draw anyway.
So we’re not good?
OM have the potential, they are a better team on paper than 2 years ago when they qualified just one point behind us in front of Olympiacos and… Dortmund. But, if I ignore my anxious nature for a second…
…Things have been clicking well for us lately while they are struggling physically and technically as a team. Position for position, we systematically have better quality (I will give them a point for the goalkeeper though): we are a better team. We just have to be aware of their attacking capabilities, and be ready to deal with the intensity they will create, but we should aim for those 3 points ourselves.
Any points left behind tomorrow may very well result in a last chance fixture in Napoli, which my cardio and I would like to avoid; and a win would keep the nice momentum we have going, and give us some assurances before the probably more difficult games we have ahead.
Interestingly, OM typically play in a 4-2-3-1, with a double pivot, Ayew doing runs on the right, Payet as a fake left wing combining/swapping with Valbuena the organizer, Gignac at CF, … kind of rings a bell?
Thanks to our injury record (!) I have a chance of getting our lineup right…
So in a few areas, we’re obviously one injury away from some tough choices…
- What if OG cannot start, or is injured during the game? Walcott up front, Ryo on the wing? Akpom?
- If TR7 is not fit, who would replace any of Rambo, Jack, Özil?
- Who would you like to see on the bench (and no, Santi,Ox, Poldi, Arteta and Diaby are not valid answers… for now)?
- What is your prediction for the game?
Written by: Alcide