ARSENAL manager Arsene Wenger has warned his players that the strength of the French league goes deeper than the free-spending pair of Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco.
Wenger believes tonight’s Champions League opponents Marseille are among those who have risen to the challenge of Ligue 1’s super-rich, and even benefited from their recruitment policies.
“In the French league you have PSG and Monaco who attract top level, world class players,” he said. “That means all the best French players go to the other clubs and that makes everybody stronger.”
Marseille finished second in the top flight last season and currently lie fourth, having warmed up for the start of their Group F campaign with a draw at Toulouse at the weekend.
Their attack is orchestrated by France playmaker Mathieu Valbuena and led by Andre-Pierre Gignac, who both featured when Arsenal plundered a late 1-0 win from the Stade Velodrome two years ago.
The Gunners have their own former Marseille charge available in Mathieu Flamini, after the spiky midfielder, who left France for London in acrimonious circumstances in 2004, returned to England in the summer.
Wenger was mocked for re-signing Flamini on a free transfer as fans bayed for a £100m transfer fund to be splashed and insists that he too was reluctant, but was won over by the Corsican’s motivation.
“First of all I believe that he realised what he had here. When you’re very young, it is difficult to understand what he had at Arsenal,” said Wenger of Flamini, who joined AC Milan in 2008.
“I must say I was reluctant to sign him again but he was so honest in his statement that he wants to play the kind of football we play, that he wants to help us to win. He convinced me through his attitude.
“He could have gone somewhere else. He had offers but he wanted to put it right with this club.”
■ Arsenal are unbeaten in nine visits to France. Aaron Ramsey’s goal decided their 2011 trip to Marseille
■ French boss Arsene Wenger has six compatriots in his squad, including ex-Marseille man Mathieu Flamini
■ The Gunners lost European finals in Paris in 1995 and 2006