Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsene Wenger's side visit Marseille on Wednesday, to find out more, we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and journalist Andy Brassell for their views.
Arsenal faced Marseille in the group stage of the Champions League this time two years ago, and therefore should be fully aware of their qualities. But Elie Baup’s side are arguably a stronger force this season, and will give Arsenal a tough examination in the south of France.
Marseille are a well-organised, cohesive side that mixes defensive structure with attacking flair. In a standard 4-2-3-1, system, the two central midfielders, Jacques Romao and Gilbert Imbula, barely stray from defensive-minded positions, instead leaving attacking to the front four, with sporadic support from full back.
Without the ball, expect to see Marseille drop back quickly into two banks of four - which will see the wide midfielders, likely Andre Ayew on the left and Dimitri Payet on the right, protect their full backs alongside Romao and Imbula.
Marseille can invite pressure, but with two commanding centre backs in Nicolas N'Koulou and Lucas Mendes (who scored a towering header to rescue a point at Toulouse at the weekend) they can often withstand it.
Going forward, Marseille base their football around direct play down the flanks, and good combinations among the front four. Ayew and Payet are quick and will attack the Arsenal full backs directly, while both are capable of getting into the box to provide a goal threat.
The real star man, however, is diminutive playmaker Mathieu Valbuena. He’s an amazingly complete central creative midfielder not dissimilar to Santi Cazorla - he drifts from flank to flank to create overloads before crossing, is capable of dropping deep into the midfield zone to ensure his side dominates possession, but also links up nicely with centre forward Andre-Pierre Gignac, too.
Gignac has a modest goalscoring record but is a good all-round centre forward. Although initially he appears a pure penalty box prowler, he’s capable of roaming the pitch laterally to pull defenders out of position, and he’s developed a neat partnership with Valbuena - the two are never far apart, despite their constant movement.
Marseille will give Arsenal quite a difficult test. They are the team that everyone think will finish bottom of the group but they don't concede a lot of goals and they won 12 matches 1-0 last season.
I think that's quite indicative of how gritty and determined they can be and I think it will probably be a similar game to the one two years ago when Aaron Ramsey scored the winner in the last minute. It was a very tight game.
"I think it will probably be a similar game to the one two years ago when Aaron Ramsey scored the winner in the last minute. It was a very tight game"
Marseille are a little more expressive than they were under Didier Deschamps but not much, they really don't give much away. Obviously with Napoli and Borussia Dortmund coming up Marseille will see these games as being deciders for the group as far as they're concerned.
I would think Dortmund are the favourites to win the group because they were finalists last year and have the best set of players. It's going to be a really tough battle between Napoli and Arsenal for second. Napoli have good depth. The main question for Arsenal is what sort of team they can put out because they have a lot of key players who they need to keep fit such as Olivier Giroud and Mesut Ozil. Those two can't afford to get injured.
As for Marseille's key men, a lot of English clubs were looking at Thauvin. I think the game in the Velodrome will come a bit soon for him to make an impact because he made his debut at the weekend but only lasted 53 minutes and has not trained so I don't think he's fully fit.
Thauvin played quite late into the summer in the Under-20 World Cup for France and he was really good in that. He's quick and has a great change of pace, he's a dribbler and he could be more important in the second game at the Emirates. He might be used as an impact sub on Wednesday.
Payet is a really good player, he can boss set-pieces and he's added more goals to his game and has a lot of pace. For Marseille it's really important to have someone on the right-hand side because that allows Mathieu Valbuena to play the No 10 role and he will be a really important player in this tie.
Marseille haven't performed brilliantly in Ligue 1 so far but then again there were a lot of games last season where they squeezed out results despite not playing especially well. They were unconvincing at Toulouse at the weekend but even though they bought a few players they have kept the structure of the team and that does make them incredibly solid.
It will be a very tight game on Wednesday. I think it will be 0-0 or 1-0 to Arsenal. I think Arsenal have the quality to win it but it will be very close.
Copyright 2023 The Arsenal Football Club Limited. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source.