By Martyn Herman
ARSENAL’S path into the Champions League knockout rounds looks to be a safe one with a home game against rock bottom Olympique Marseille coming up on Tuesday (9.45pm) but they are taking nothing for granted.
The Londoners top Group F with nine points from four matches, the same as second-placed Napoli and three more than Borussia Dortmund.
Should Arsenal beat Marseille and Dortmund fail to defeat Napoli, Arsene Wenger’s side would be guaranteed to qualify with a game to spare.
Midfielder Santi Cazorla has warned against complacency especially with a trip to Naples concluding the group stages.
“The main problem I see is everyone thinks it’s going to be an easy game for us to win,” the Spaniard told the club’s website (www.arsenal.com) after Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Southampton also kept his side top of the Premier League.
“There is nothing at stake for Marseille because they have zero points but they are going to make things difficult for us. It may be tough and if we’re not careful we might slip up and then we might not be able to get through to the next round.
“We need to understand it’s a vital match,” said Cazorla. “If we obtained a bad result then it would make things very complicated for us to go to Napoli and win there.”
Marseille held Arsenal to a 0-0 draw the last time they played at the Emirates two years ago but the French club have a poor record in England.
Their only victory in 11 competitive visits was a 1-0 win over Liverpool in the 2007-08 Champions League group stages and they have lost six times.
With little chance of even finishing third in the group, Marseille may elect to field a weakened side at Arsenal.
Coach Elie Baup, whose team enjoyed a 3-1 victory at AC Ajaccio on Friday in Ligue 1, has hinted he may try some new faces.
“We’re eliminated from the Champions League but we need to show some good things,” he said. “It will perhaps be the occasion for some young players to gain some experience.”
Marseille will hope Andre-Pierre Gignac is in good form tonight as they are without forward Dimitri Payet because of a knee injury.
The 1993 European champions are also minus Ghana striker Andre Ayew due to a knee problem.
Jose Mourinho meanwhile wants his Chelsea side to confirm their place in the Champions League knockout stages by beating Basel in Switzerland on Tuesday to ease the December workload.
Basel inflicted Chelsea’s first home loss in the group phase of the tournament in nearly 10 years, ending a 29-match unbeaten streak, at the start of Group E, leaving the Blues and returning boss Mourinho fearful of a repeat of the 2012-13 season.
The Blues suffered the ignominy of becoming the first winners to exit the tournament at the group stage in defence of their title, before responding by beating Basel in the semi-finals en route to winning the Europa League.
Since the Basel blow on September 18, Chelsea have responded with a 4-0 win at Steaua Bucharest and two 3-0 defeats of Schalke, the early pace-setters, and they require one point to advance to the next round, while a fourth win would seal top spot in the pool.
Mourinho hopes to secure Group E at St Jakob Park, so that the result in the home match with Steaua on December 11 is an irrelevance.
“We are going to try to win and kill it,” Mourinho said.
“We have so many matches in December that if we can have one less – and the one less is the crucial match against Steaua – it would be a help.
“Also because it was not a good feeling to lose against them at home – so, no revenge, nothing, not at all, but to try to win against a team that beat us at Stamford Bridge I think is important.”
Celtic are the third British team in action, but their European campaign is proving problematic in a very difficult group.
The Hoops are bottom of Group H with three points from four games and, with a trip to face Barcelona in their final fixture next month, the Scottish champions need to beat AC Milan on Tuesday at Parkhead to have a realistic chance of reaching the last 16 of the competition for the second successive season.
“We are playing at home, we will have the fans behind us and there is quality in the team,” said Dutch forward Derk Boerrigter.
“We have to play our own game and if we do we can win.”