ARSENAL manager Arsene Wenger has urged his team to ignore a possible nightmare scenario and seize their chance of qualifying for the Champions League knockout stage tonight.
A win at home to Marseille would leave the Gunners on 12 points – usually enough to sweep into the last 16, yet a tally that could still see them eliminated at the first hurdle for the first time this century.
The Premier League leaders’ passage will be ensured, however, if they triumph and Napoli deny Borussia Dortmund victory in their penultimate fixture – an outcome Wenger is more keen to ponder.
“We know what is at stake and we want to qualify and we know that it’s a very big game,” he said. “We have an opportunity to do it at home. You say 12 points might not be enough, but it’s also true that it might be and maybe even already [tonight], so let’s get the 12 points.”
Wenger has former Marseille midfielder Mathieu Flamini back from suspension and winger Theo Walcott in line for a possible first start since Arsenal beat the same team in France more than two months ago. But he ruled out signing club record scorer Thierry Henry or Robert Pires, a fellow veteran of the 2003-04 Invincibles side, despite the pair currently training with the Gunners.
“They like to come back to Arsenal and practice. When they can join in they do. It’s nothing more than that,” added Wenger, who also brushed off suggestions of Henry in a coaching role.
“At the moment he [Henry] is invited just to practice when he can. We have a big staff and a very competent one, and we have the right number to support the team and achieve the targets. Thierry is a player – one day certainly it will be different, but at the moment, no.”
Marseille arrive without a point in Group F but have overcome a difficult run in Ligue 1 with consecutive victories over Sochaux and Ajaccio, where they won 3-1 on Friday to climb to fourth in the French top flight.