Arsenal begin the first phase of the group stage in Champions League play this week, with their first of two matches against Marseille coming September 18. With recent addition Mesut Özil having tucked one match under his belt, Arsenal appear ready to make a good run through the tournament. However, manager Arsène Wenger knows the squad is running on thin ice — it stands one more injury away from losing their edge.
Arsenal have a plethora of injuries that have saddled their season and could extend into their Champions League match this week: they lost Łukasz Podolski to a hamstring tear during a match against Fenerbahçe and he will be out until late October at least; Santi Cazorla is out with an ankle injury and will not play Wednesday, Michael Arteta has been out all season with a thigh injury; Per Mertesacker has an illness that kept him out of Saturday’s match against Sunderland; Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Abou Diaby are both out with major injuries and won’t return until late in the winter; Tomáš Rosicky missed Saturday’s match as well and will likely be out for another week at least. To crown it all, Olivier Giroud walked off the pitch limping after Saturday’s win; his status is unknown for tomorrow’s tilt. The team’s depth is severely reduced, and any more injuries would be a devastating blow given the current state of affairs for the Gunners.
But there is too much positive buzz floating around this club right now to focus on the bad. Their opening day Premier League loss to Aston Villa was their first and only loss of the season — in all competitions. Their last-second transfer for the world-class midfielder Özil shocked everyone and he should only improve on the pitch the more comfortable he becomes playing for his new club. The play of Aaron Ramsey has been a revelation for the club, which is still yet to see Theo Walcott bring much to the table yet this season. Walcott will be called on heavily in Wednesday’s match, and Özil will likely be the one setting up both him and Ramsey.
While they’re nowhere near full-strength, Arsenal is a good bet to take the first leg against Marseille. Playing in the toughest group, they’ve luckily drawn the easiest club first in Marseille — and they have over a month to prepare for Borussia Dortmund, who was just topped Arsenal in the Associated Press Global Soccer Poll. Both clubs are the favorites to advance to the knockout stage of Champions League play, but Napoli is going to give Arsenal fits — and they feature Gonzalo Higuaín, who was Wenger’s biggest missed transfer of the offseason.