Marseille preview + Vermaelen deal is good news

Right then, Champions League action tonight and we take on Marseille.

There’s something of a history there between the French club and Arsene Wenger. Fierce rivals while he was manager of Monaco, there was the whole them being completely corrupt and bribey stuff too. The manager will have played that down beforehand but still it rumbles on. That Samir Nasri’s principal agent is Jean Pierre Bernes, who was jailed over the match fixing/corruption scandal, makes it no surprise that the summer shenanigans were so painful and acrimonious.

Wenger talked up the French side who, like Arsenal, have had a struggling start to the season with just 9 points from 10 games, but the boss is hoping we can contribute further to their troubles:

A positive result would put us in a strong position to qualify because you could see until now that there are three contenders, Marseille, Dortmund and us. It will be interesting to see how strong Marseille is tomorrow, because after we play them at home. For us to get at least four points from these two games would put us in a very strong position.

We’ve named an 18 man squad and I would expect some rotation, to be honest. Important as this game is I think tonight’s team selection will be influenced by the fact the Orc Army come visiting on Sunday. Aaron Ramsey returns from injury and I think he’ll start, Andre Santos will slot in for the injured Kieran Gibbs while I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Arshavin and Chamakh start in the front three, the former for Walcott, the latter for van Persie.

We have to be able to trust the squad, we know how important Robin is but we also have to win games without him, lest he become something of a crutch. I mean, it’s a very nice, effective, goal-scoring crutch but the season is long and we need a contribution from the other players. I suppose what the squad shows though is a real dearth of striking options. There’s no place in the squad at all for Park, which is a bit of a surprise given that playing in back in France would have been well within his comfort zone. I guess we’ll see him in the Carling Cup but the more you look at it the more odd his purchase becomes.

Much maligned he might have been but how many would be happy to see Nicklas Bendtner start up front for us tonight? For nearly a year now Chamakh has been in the doldrums, the great start to his Arsenal career is looking more and more like an anomaly, but perhaps a return to familiar territory for him too might just spark him back into life.

Marseille top our group so a result here tonight is really important – and while away from home in the Premier League has been somewhat nightmarish this season, in Europe we’ve done ok. A very effective performance against Udinese qualified us for the knock-out stages while only a late wonder goal robbed us of 3 points in Dortmund. Ok, they were swarming all over us and we had some scary moments but it took something special, and very late, to get them back into it.

The manager spoke about there being less pressure in Europe, and maybe that is a factor, but fingers crossed the win against Sunderland, coupled with this relative lack of pressure, will ensure a good performance and a good result tonight.

Elsewhere there was good news as Thomas Vermaelen signed a new long term deal at the club. Like Robin and Theo Walcott, he’s into the final two years of his deal and that, of course, made people a bit nervous. However, he’s signed on for the long term which is very positive. I simply do not understand why anyone would seek to make this a negative. Suggestions that we should have waited until he got fully fit or proved himself thus don’t make any sense to me.

If we waited we’d be accused of fannying around and not sorting things out. We routinely hear about players being ‘too busy’ to worry about new contracts, so what better time to sort this out with Vermaelen than when he doesn’t have worry about playing? When fit – and I know, I know, make all the jokes you want – he’s one of our best players and strongest characters. And in an era when loyalty is in short supply it was great to hear Vermaelen say he felt he owed something to the club after missing so many games:

I played my first year. I had a big injury last year, getting injured again, I want to give something back to the club, to the fans, to show my qualities. And that’s why I want to stay longer.

I feel great at the moment. I am doing a lot of stuff on the pitch now. It’s been going really well and I think I can go into full training very soon – that will be good for me.

I understand concerns over his injuries but surely that was taken into account when the club offered him a new deal – certainly Wenger’s explanation of it suggests they’ve gotten right to the bottom of it:

We think it’s a genetic accident what he had, because he had it on both sides, exactly the same injury. It is a little tendon called plantaris that pushes on you, but only 25 per cent of the population has [it] … that pushes on your Achilles tendon. The only difference is that for the first injury, it took us a while to find the real source

If it is a risk is it a greater risk than waiting until he is fully fit, by which point he might feel unwanted and with just a year left on his contract decide to move elsewhere? And one need only look at our captain and best player to see someone who has come through countless injury problems to become hugely important to the team.

It seems that whatever we do there’s always somebody going to complain about it one way or the other. Give him a new deal, it’s too soon. Wait to give new deal, waited too long. Personally, I’m delighted we’ve got him signed up and hopefully he’ll be the first of a number of important players whose futures we secure. The manager hinted at this when talking to the press beforehand, saying:

Overall the atmosphere inside the club is very solid, very united and very positive. We want to turn the results around. The fact that some players extend their contract with us in this period is a positive sign for us.

‘Some’ would suggest more than Vermaelen but obviously nothing’s been formalised yet. It is just the kind of positive message we need at the moment and if it goes some way to ensuring other players decide their future lies at the club then it will be doubly-so. Word is Vermaelen will be back by the end of the October, and I’m looking forward to seeing the Vermesacker Axis get a good number of games under their belt. Let’s hope we see that sooner rather than later.

Beyond that not much going on. If you’re stuck in the wrong kind of time zone, or working late, remember you can follow the match on the live blog. Details later on or you can bookmark the default live blog page now. Updates will appear closer to kick off.

And for those of you who enjoy a little gamble, as opposed to a little gambol, you can get up to £50 free bet from Paddy Power who also have an Arsenal special tonight: If Robin van Persie scores the last goal in this game, Paddy Power will refund all losing 1st /last goalscorer, correct score & scorecast singles on the match.

Register with Paddy Power here.

Right, until later. In the meantime have yourselves a good day.

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