MARSEILLE (AFP) - Marseille may be the outsiders in a testing Champions League Group F, but Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger knows his team cannot afford to underestimate the French club on Wednesday.
The two clubs renew acquaintances at the Stade Velodrome in their group opener on Wednesday, two years after their last meeting in the south of France, when a last-gasp Aaron Ramsey goal secured a 1-0 win for the Gunners.
A limited Marseille side surpassed expectations to reach the quarter-finals that season and, with many of those who participated in that campaign remaining on the books, they have progressed under coach Elie Baup.
While the presence of Arsenal as well as last season's Champions League runners-up Borussia Dortmund and Italy's Napoli makes Marseille the outsiders, Wenger believes the French team boast an excellent mix of defensive solidity and attacking flair.
"It is the toughest group. All four teams have a chance of qualifying," said Wenger at an eve-of-game press conference at the Velodrome on Tuesday.
"On average, you need 10 points to qualify. We can't say now that we will get nine points at home, so the start of the competition is very important for the confidence of the team. We will try to win.
"Marseille is a city where the people are always very passionate and the team is usually very hard to beat," he said ahead of the match at a ground which retains a wonderful atmosphere despite currently being closed on one side for reconstruction.
"They are strong defensively, physically strong. And they have a fearsome attacking quartet of (Mathieu) Valbuena, (Andre) Ayew, (Dimitri) Payet and Andre-Pierre Gignac, players who are all capable of making the difference.
"Some say that Dortmund and Napoli are our main rivals, but I would say they are at the same level." Wenger, whose team lie just one point behind Liverpool at the top of the Premier League, is without a host of players due to injury for the game, including Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mikel Arteta.
However, Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud have been passed fit to play after illness and a knee problem respectively.
Despite the presence of such talents in the English side, Marseille goalkeeper and captain Steve Mandanda insisted that he is not afraid and is just relishing being back in Europe's elite club competition.
"Why would we be scared? These are magnificent matches to play in and the reason why we play in the first place," said Mandanda, who is a survivor from the last meeting of the clubs here.
Meanwhile, Marseille coach Baup dismissed suggestions that his team have a responsibility to boost France's standing in the European game at a time when few Ligue 1 clubs other than Paris Saint-Germain appear capable of genuinely competing at the very highest level.
"Our game (in France) has taken an interesting turn in terms of policy," said former Bordeaux coach Baup.
"Our under-20 team won the World Cup, our under-19 team got to the European Championship final, and coaches are trying to get their teams to play football.
"We can see this in our national teams but also in our clubs. We have two clubs (PSG and Monaco) with big budgets, comparable to the best teams in Europe, and they have attracted good players.
"All that means that our Uefa coefficient will improve over time." Baup will be able to welcome back Ghana star Ayew after he served a domestic suspension at the weekend, so new signing Florian Thauvin will likely drop out of the line-up.