Tag Archives: Marseille

Group F Permutations: BVB's fate, and ours, is in our hands

Dortmund did their damnedest to complicate the Group F standings, and their 3-1 win over Napoli does just that. It may not be enough to keep them in the Champions League. They might just be the first club to finish with 12 points but fail to advance. They’ll play Marseille, a club that looked to have thrown in the towel against Arsenal if the starting line-up on Tuesday is any indication. It included a number of second-stringers, and it was only when our 1-0 lead looked a little tenuous that they looked to throw on Valbuena and Thauvin to seek the equalizer. With absolutely nothing to play for, perhaps not even pride, they look likely to roll over for Dortmund—but it wouldn’t matter how many goals Dortmund scores. They do have to win, though, to claim the points. More on that in a minute.

Goals against Marseille just don’t count in determining the standings anymore. If we manage a draw or better against Napoli, we’re not only through to the next round, we’ve won the Group. That matters a great deal in determining who we’ll face. Instead of facing the likes of Real Madrid or Bayern right off the bat, we might draw Olympiakos or FC Basel. That’s not something to turn one’s nose up at. Yes, we very nearly upended Bayern last year and have shown that we can beat almost anyone on our day, but there’s little wrong with looking for a favorable draw.

However, should we fall to Napoli, things get a little more interesting. Rule 7.06b of the UEFA Champions League Regulations stipulates that “superior goal difference from the group matches played among the teams in question” if two or more teams are equal on points. At the moment, we have a +2 goal-differential against Dortmund and Napoli. Dortmund is +1. Napoli is -3. Here, then, are a few scenarios (assuming Dortmund defeats Marseille):

  • If we lose to Napoli by three goals or more, we finish 3rd in the group and fall into the Europa League. 
  • If we lose to Napoli by two goals, we end up with a goal-differential of zero, but Napoli ends up at -1, so we would finish in 2nd place behind Dortmund’s +1 (edited after being corrected in comments section below).
  • If we lose to Napoli by one goal, we’re through because we’d still be at +1 and Napoli would be at -2.

Of course, I would like to see us reduce the preceding break-down to absolute rubbish by simply winning. In years past, we’ve had to resort to such shabby, miserly points-hoarding. I don’t see the need for that this time around. I say we swagger into the Stadio San Paolo and smash them. Did you know that they refer to themselves as “I ciucciarelli“? It means “little donkeys.” Where I’m from, we sometimes refer to donkeys as asses. It’s enough to give new meaning to “kick their asses.” Indeed.

Marseille Preview: A kiss of death to the Group of Death

Tonight offers an opportunity to apply a choke-hold to the Group of Death. Sorry to mix my metaphors from title to lead-in, but so it goes. We go in level on points with Napoli and, dare I say it, the more favorable draw as Napoli faces a tenser match at Dortmund, who are three points off and desperately need to win in order to stay alive.

Marseille, winless in the Group to this point, might come in footloose and fancy-free. Playing for nothing affords a certain freedom that might be worrisome for us. With that in mind, it’s valuable to have Flamini back, as one of our finest performances of the season came with he and Arteta together—the 2-0 win over Napoli. Facing his former club might even give Flamini a bit more to play for, not that he ever lacks for intensity.

A win, after all, puts us atop the Group with 12 points, forcing Napoli to win as well to stay even. Should we both win, we both advance as Dortmund could only finish as high as 9 points. It would then come down to our final match—a trip to Napoli—to determine who wins the group. I don’t much savor the idea, but I do believe, should it come to that, we can take it to Napoli. Should we win along with Dortmund, things get a little more muddled. We’d sit, of course, at 12, with Napoli and Dortmund knotted at nine. The final round would again have us travel to Napoli and Dortmund visit Marseille. It then becomes possible for all three of us to finish at 12 points (if Napoli beat us and Dortmund beat Marseille), and the tie-break, as I understand it, would come to goal-differential excluding matches against Marseille. As bizarre as it sounds, a team could finish with 12 points without advancing to the knock-out stage. So much for Arsène’s “10.2 points to advance” theory, eh? Let’s keep it simple by beating Marseille and letting the other chips fall where they may.

With all this in mind, here’s the line-up I’d like to see. Let’s be honest. There’s little rotation to be done on defense or at forward, so our only real questions focus on midfield. With Wilshere having played a full 90′ versus Southampton, I’d like him rested and for Rosicky to start at center. With him dictating tempo, Cazorla and Özil can roam the flanks. I particularly like Özil from the right; his partnering with Sagna was especially productive against Southampton. Had Ramsey finished that little backheel or if Özil put his own shot past Boruc, he would have put to rest the silly quibbles over his apparent drop in form. As it stands, he and Sagna exchanged 16 passes against Southampton as Sagna offered an outlet either in support or as an overlap. In other words, a productive pairing.

Of course, there’s Theo Walcott to consider. He’s available but probably far from fully fit, so it would be good to see him come on for Özil in the second half. After all, Theo’s only goal of the current campaign did come against Marseille. We still haven’t seen Cazorla at his Cazorlian best, but I’m seeing him go for a goal before coming off midway through the second half. He’s due for one of his jinky runs across the edge of the box, and I’m counting on him to deliver that goal. There. That’s my prediction. Arsenal 2-0 Marseille with goals from Cazorla and Walcott.

Defensively, we should throttle Marseille, who have struggled to score away in the Champions League and may struggle all the more without the injured Andre Ayew, who has scored two of the club’s four goals in the competition, or Dmitri Payet, who is second in the club with four goals overall. Without them, it’s difficult to see where the goals will come from, but this is no excuse to let our guard down. Setting aside the league cup loss to Chelsea, we’ve conceded a single goal in our last five matches, keeping four clean sheets while facing three high-octane clubs (Liverpool, Man U, Dortmund). A disciplined, organized effort from the back four will be vital. Florian Thauvin will be one to watch on Marseille’s right side; Gibbs will have to be alert to his runs and to his preference for shooting with his left.

That said, though, this is a game we really should seize by the scruff of the neck, and I hope we’ll see an early goal to put them on the back foot. As I write, tt’s only a few hours to kick-off. What’s your prediction: final score and MotM?

Arsenal 2-1 Marseille: again, Ramsey runs this team

It was the result we wanted and the result we needed. Although it wasn’t the prettiest—outshot 17-9, near-even possession, a bit of sloppy defending and luck on the line—we come away with the away-win and the three points. Along the way, a few getting-to-be-familiar performances were joined by a few, new, and welcome ones: Walcott finally scored his first goal of the season, Szczęsny turned in a MotM-worthy performance, Gibbs provided an assist and a goal-line save, and Flamini bossed his way around midfield. With Napoli turning away Dortmund by the same 2-1 scoreline, it was vital that we took all three in what is probably one of the easier legs of the group-stage. Of course, it’s not without its downsides: Ramsey picked up a yellow-card early in the second half, and we lost a clean-sheet in the waning moments on a questionable penalty-kick. So it goes. Three points earned.

Had it not been for the yellow-card and the penalty in the 90th minute, we’d be talking about Ramsey yet again as the man of the match. He turned in another trademark display, harassing Marseille all over the pitch, pinging passes around, and, for the sixth time in seven matches, scoring. Instead, we’ll be left to fret a bit about that yellow-card, which carries over to the next match. However, rather than fret over the negatives, let’s indulge a bit in the positives.

First, as already mentioned, Walcott finally tallied. Coming on the heels of the Sunderland match, one in which he could have and should have gotten a hat-trick, it comes as a tremendous relief to see him score at long last. That it wasn’t a typical Walcott-goal is beside the point. After Marseille’s Jeremy Morel flubbed a headed clearance in the box, Walcott sized it up and blasted home. Let this be the goal that breaks the seal on Walcott’s season—pressing to score, he’s wound himself up too tightly and spurned chances that he might otherwise put in the back of the net (let’s not forget that a few fine saves have also played a role). Having scored his first goal of the 2013-14 campaign should relieve a bit of the pressure borne of high expectations.

At the other end of the pitch, Wojciech Szczęsny turned in another fine performance, including a number of vital saves on some very difficult shots, and he very nearly came up with a save on the game-ending penalty, accurately predicting the direction of the shot and almost getting fingertips to a nearly-perfect shot. Had he come up with a deflection, or an outright save, we’d have a keeper who’d gone two for two on PK’s (even if Benteke managed to gather the rebound in week one). Not bad. Not bad at all.

Of course, he had some help, most notably when Kieran Gibbs came up with a header to clear the line after a bit of scrabble saw Szczęsny come off his line only to see Per scuff the clearance. As the ball went skyward and towards the goal, Gibbs ran in and managed to head the ball backwards and out of goal for Szczęsny to gather. Tense moments, to be sure. and one that leaves us thankful that Gibbs hadn’t been to the barber before the game.

If there’s any disappointment to be had, perhaps it lies in the possibility that we hoped to see more from Giroud or Özil. Giroud was a non-factor at least in the direct sense, turning in only one shot (although his movement in and around the box was notable). Similarly, Özil was decent but not dominant. Let’s hope that each is still shrugging off the lingering effects of their respective injuries (Giroud’s knee or ankle, Özil’s illness) and will return to form sooner rather than later.

All in all, not much to quibble with; a fine result that bags us three points of the ten Arsène suggests we need to advance. Dortmund traveled to Napoli and lost 2-1, not that this is a shocker, but it does ratchet up the tension around Dortmund’s remaining fixtures just a bit. Before we square off with them, we’ll host Napoli on 2 October, sandwiched between trips to face Swansea (28 September) and West Brom (5 October). Tricky stuff, that.  However, with the run we’re on, fifteen wins from eighteen matches, I reserve the right to feel confident moving forward. We have a few days to catch our collective breath before hosting Stoke on Sunday.

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Giroud, Marseille, and the power of homecomings

The last time that Olivier Giroud travelled to the State Vélodrome to face Marseille was in April 2012 when he still led the line for Montpellier, and he tallied a goal and an assist in a 3-1 victory. This was the season that saw him score 26 goals in 51 matches across all competitions, good enough to encourage us to pony up for him by June 2012. Without making too much of something that occurred almost 18 months ago, I’m picking Giroud to deliver one goal, if not two, in what should be one of the easier matches in a tricky Group of Death.

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Wielding a significant height advantage over Marseille’s first-choice keeper and defenders, and on a fine run of form that has seen him score in four of five matches to start the season, Giroud looks well-positioned to seize the initiative in his second visit to France since joining Arsenal in June 2012. He has looked bright, confident, and, may I say, clinical. His touch has seemed sharp, and we have yet to any wasteful ways. Of his 22 shots so far, seven have been on frame, and four have found their way home. If we look at conversion-rate as a ratio of shots on target and goals, Giroud has an unheard-of conversion-rate of 57%. Taken as a ratio of shots to goals, he still manages a sparkly 18.2%. By any metric, then, Giroud has found a rather comfortable rhythm to start the season, the kind of run that bodes well for Wednesday as well as for the season as a whole. I’ve tabbed him to go for twenty goals in the Prem (and did so before Özil joined the squad). Özil’s first touches saw him collect a Gibbs lob and thread a cross into the box for Giroud to send home, an exquisite display that certainly bodes well for their partnership. For as much as we might bemoan Theo Walcott’s profligacy this past Saturday, Giroud made good on his chance, and it’s there that we should focus. Walcott’s finishing will improve in time. If anything, he might be suffering from an embarrassment of riches, hardly believing the service he’s getting. There’s hope in that, myopic though it may be. With Giroud, there seems less need for such hope as he’s currently the Prem’s leading scorer (tied with Benteke and Sturridge for those interested in full disclosure) and looks to build on that through a growing relationship with Özil.

As for Marseille, they’ve started well enough but have done so against a fair number of minnows, beating Evian, Valenciennes and newly-promoted Guingamp, winners of four of fifteen matches between them; and drawing with winless Toulouse and losing to newly-promoted Monaco. This is an uneven start, to say the least, and not one that should inspire fear. It should certainly not, on the other hand,  inspire complacency. Arsène has targeted ten points (from 18 available) as the threshold for qualification. Taking all three from Marseille on Wednesday and again in November would put us in fine shape for advancement, then. Even with a couple of tricky fixtures coming up—home vs. Stoke, at West Brom, at Swansea—on the horizon, here’s hoping that Arsène fields something close to a full-strength squad. Mertesacker and Vermaelen are both available, the latter returning from long-term injury. Some rotation in the back-line might be appropriate as a result. The midfield looks stable, if only because of a dearth of options, with Ramsey and Flamini in the pivot with Özil, Walcott, and Wilshere patrolling the midfield behind Giroud up-top. Truth be told, Marseille is a team we really should be able to manage, if not dominate, if we expect to make any progress. I don’t mean to underestimate Marseille, of course, but taking all three points is a vital goal. Taking all three points against an inferior opponent (no disrespect) is key—and I think our boys know this and will go out like berserkers to do that.

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