Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Wenger to hand out player's Champions League debut -Wilshere to be benched?

Morning Gooners.

Later we play our first game in the Champions League group stage this season. It's a competition which I've always enjoyed and although this stage of the competition has been rather dull for the past few seasons, this time round we've got teams in our group who are really going to make us fight for our place in the knock-out phase.

With games against Marseille, Napoli and Dortmund it will hopefully make this stage of the competition more exciting and fill the Grove up for the home ties. I think it's fair to say that the ground has become less well occupied on Champions League nights in recent seasons because the quality of the opposition hasn't been up to much.

And while I'm never sniffy about an Arsenal win, beating Olympiacos for the four time out of five seasons (or whatever the stat is) doesn't really tell me anything more about Arsenal and the Greek champions that I don't already know.

It's the big ties we all get excited about. The Barcelona game was epic. The first time the Grove truly came alive on a European night. Then the game against AC Milan two seasons ago where we attempted to make the impossible, possible. It didn't quite happen, but it gave us a fantastic night of football.

And last season the eventual Champions of Europe turned up and gave us a footballing lesson. It was a huge tie and one where the ground was packed. Hopefully that will be the case again when the three group ties are played out over the coming months.

Tonight our task starts in France against Marseille. They are a side we have faced before and Aaron Ramsey's sensational goal at the Stade Velodrome gave us a 1-0 win in stoppage-time in October 2011. The goal was the perfect present for the traveling Gooners who thought they were about to end up witnessing a frustrating 0-0.

The game will be a tough one again tonight just like our previous encounter with them. They currently sit fourth in the league and in Mathieu Valbuena have one of the most exciting players in the league.

With Valbuena's attacking threat on the Marseille right in mind, I wouldn't be surprised to see Arsene Wenger make a change in our line up in order to keep our left handside tight.

There will be a late fitness test on Olivier Giroud's knee, but he is expected to start. Chuba Akpom on standby should the Frenchman not make it. Mesut Ozil is also in line to make his Champions League debut for us.

I think the team picks itself really. But I expect there to be two changes from the starting 11 which faced Sunderland. Per Mertesacker is back fit and will come back into the team at the expense of Carl Jenkinson, with Bacary Sagna switching to right back.

The other change I can see the manager making is to bring in Nacho Monreal on the left attacking slot - probably at the expense of Jack Wilshere - to attempt to keep Valbuena quiet.

I'd expect the team to be: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Flamini, Ramsey, Walcott, Ozil, Monreal, Giroud.

With three tough teams in our group, it is important that we get off to a good start tonight by putting three points on the board. Hopefully with us not sustaining any more injuries.


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