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Arsenal vs Marseille Champions League Preview

While Jose Mourinho, David Moyes and Manuel Pellegrini may have been smiling inwardly when the Champions League draw was made, there was no disguising Arsene Wenger’s look of dismay. Of the four English clubs, it is Arsenal who drew the short straw in a group comprising last year’s beaten finalists, Borussia Dortmund, the upwardly mobile Napoli and tonight’s opponents, Marseille.

Coral reacted by pushing the Gunners out to 33/1 to win the trophy outright, but in the meantime there is a real danger that they will fail to qualify for the knock-out stages for the first time in 13 years.

The one thing Arsenal do not need as they begin their campaign in France is a lengthy absentee list, but that is what they have with Santi Cazorla, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mikel Arteta, Lukas Podolski and others all nursing injuries of varying degrees of seriousness.

For this is a game Arsenal really need to win if they are to apply pressure on Dortmund and Napoli in Group F. Indeed, it can be argued that this, on paper, is the easiest of their six ties.

Yes, they are away from home and the Stade Velodrome can be a pretty intimidating place with around 60,000 roaring on the home side. But there is no stronger English team away from home at the moment than Arsenal, who are bidding for an incredible tenth straight victory on the road.

Marseille, currently lying fourth in La Ligue, are a decent outfit, but they are the weakest team in the group (16/1 to win it) and won’t find it easy against an Arsenal side who can field such an array of creative talent (most notably Mesut Ozil and Jack Wilshire), even without those sidelined.

They still have limited resources up front, of course, and one wonders how they will cope if Olivier Giroud’s (11/2 to score first or last, 6/4 at any time) knee niggle develops into something more serious.

But a real bonus for Wenger has been the blossoming of Aaron Ramsey. The Welsh midfielder scored a late winner in Marseille the last time the clubs met two years ago, but is only now really coming into his own and justifying the faith Wenger has always had in him. Now full of confidence, Ramsey was on the mark twice at Sunderland at the weekend and it would be no surprise to again see him on the scoresheet tonight – Coral go 12/1 he nets first or last, 5/1 at any time.

It won’t be easy, but Arsenal are often at their best when their backs are up against the wall and they may well pull off the win they need and complete an anticipated clean sweep of opening-game victories for the Premiership clubs. Coral price them at 29/20 to win tonight, while a 2-0 correct scoreline (11/1) also catches the eye.

Written by Jon Freeman