Marseille preview: rotation time?

After the fun of Chelsea … John Terry, heh … it’s back to the serious business as we take on Marseille in the Champions League this evening.

It took a very late goal in the turgid away match to take the three points and the manager is urging his team to show all due respect the French side. He says:

Marseille always make life difficult for teams in England, so let’s be cautious, prepare well and be completely focused tomorrow night. It will be a very difficult game so that is the best way to deal with Marseille’s performance. Ten points would guarantee qualification but it would not guarantee first place.

And as much fun as Barcelona (at home) was last season that was the price we paid for not topping our group. Of course we’re still very much at the whims of fate and the performance of other teams but the aim should be to top this group and hopefully reap the benefits of that.

Post-Chelsea I wouldn’t be at all suprised to see some changes tonight. With Jenkinson and Vermaelen fit I suspect both could start. I think Mertesacker – who has played almost every game since his arrival – might well be due a rest, and of course there must be the temptation to look at a home game like this game and wonder if this is the time to give Robin van Persie a chance to recuperate a bit. With Marouane Chamakh missing with a knee injury the only option up front is Park, and with the manager talking up the need to take the points it’d be something of a gamble to rest the Dutchman.

The last time he tried it he had to bring him off the bench to get the goals but, at the same time, we need players like Arshavin and Benayoun to play some games. There is, at least, a bit of wiggle room in the Champions League with two further games after tonight. In the Premier League we cannot afford to drop points so the boss has got some thinking to do about what kind of team he picks tonight. He seems tempted to stick with what he’s got, saying:

Sometimes if you take a team on a roll, there is no need to change it. When a team is on a positive experience, why not? That is what I have to decide. I did it away from home, at Donetsk, and got punished last season. But you could finish first and still play Barcelona.

And he says there’s no chance of his players getting carried away with the win against Chelsea. The celebrations were enthusiastic, to say the least but, while Arsene understands, he’s urged his players to remain focused:

At the time, you want them to be happy. There is a need for us to communicate with our fans again and that was a good chance, we wanted that. After that, we have won nothing. We must just use it as a springboard to go further towards our target. The players know that. We have more experience than we have had in the last five or six years. The players know.

Which is spot on. We’ve built some decent momentum and good foundations on which to go forward and, at the end of the day, Chelsea was just three points. Three significant, and highly enjoyable points, but just three points all the same.

The goalscoring hero from the last game, Aaron Ramsey, is, according to Arsene, getting back to his full physical potential having had a year of his career wiped out with one swipe of a knuckle-dragging, drooling, half-witted, kitten-fisting oaf’s boot, and Ramsey himself wants to add to his goal tally:

I like to get forward and into the box. My target is to get into double figures so hopefully I can do that this season. It’s always a nice feeling when you score a goal so yes, hopefully I can do that.

There was the sense a few weeks ago that the Welshman was being set up as the latest target for fan disaffection but he showed on Saturday his eye for a pass in the final third, he’s got 5 assists so far this season (I think), scored a couple, and I remember a stat from our pals at Opta from a few weeks back which said he had created more goalscoring opportunities than any other Arsenal player. He’s clearly got a way to go but I think he’s becoming a more important player by the week and hopefully his progress will continue.

I think tonight is a game we can certainly win, even if we do decide to rotate a bit. I would hope that the players who come in want to show their stuff too and put themselves in the manager’s thoughts so they don’t experience great days like Chelsea from the bench. I think we’ve got enough about us to perform better than we did in France and to make the final two games of the group stages a touch more comfortable. Fingers crossed.

In other news, Stan Kroenke popped in to say ‘Howdy’ to the squad yesterday and gave a press briefing too. There’s a full transcript of it on The Mirror website and it’s an interesting read. He’s certainly cautious in places, which is understandable, and there are obvious cultural differences when it comes to sports club ownership, but there’s certainly nothing to get knickers in a twist either. His message to the players when he met them:

That I’m proud of them. That they have faced adversity and have shown a real class and spirit in fighting through it.

His ‘reign’, such as it is, is barely months old. There are now the beginnings of more open dialogue from the owner but, ultimately, nobody really pays too much attention to the owner when a team is winning. Abramovich has barely said two words in his entire time at Chelsea but once they were winning things nobody really cared. Even United’s protests at The Glazers, which I understand completely, have been muted by continued success on the pitch. It’s down to Stan, and his people, to make his presence at the top of the club irrelevant, so to speak.

There will be full live blog coverage of tonight’s game, team news posted as soon as we have it. Check back later for the blog post or bookmark the default live blog page. It’s the perfect way to follow the game if you’re stuck in work or unable to find a TV later on.

And as usual there’s a great money back special from Paddy Power: If Robin Van Persie scores the last goal, Paddy Power will refund all losing 1st /last goalscorer, correct score & scorecast singles on this match. Click here to register with Paddy Power and get up to £50 in a free bet.

Right, that’s yer lot. I have a hectic day ahead, the Arseblog book is heading to typesetters tomorrow so there’s that final day of editing and correcting, but I have coffee and some top quality assistance so I’m sure we’ll get there.

News throughout the day on Arseblog News. Till tomorrow.

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