Arsenal touched down in the south of France in confident mood as they aim to start the Champions League group stage with a 10th successive away win in all competitions, but the lack of depth in their squad has become a genuine concern for Arsène Wenger and his players.
Olivier Giroud, who has given Arsenal a major boost by declaring himself fit to start against Marseille on Wednesday night, admitted he is "a bit scared" about the paucity of Wenger's options and predicted problems ahead. Although Wenger can name a strong starting XI against the French runners-up, including Mesut Özil, the substitutes' bench looks threadbare in the absence of Mikel Arteta, Lukas Podolski, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Santi Cazorla, Tomas Rosicky, Yaya Sanogo and Abou Diaby, all of whom remain injured.
"We're a really united squad and everyone works for the team," said Giroud, who was struggling with a knee injury after Saturday's 3-1 victory at Sunderland. "That's good, we have a quality squad but I'm a bit scared about the numbers we have in the squad. We will face problems because of the numbers in our squad. But we'll do everything we can to rival the big clubs."
Wenger admitted he harbours his own worries. "For Marseille, all the players who had little doubts are OK. But I am concerned because we play now for two months every three or four days and it's important to get some players back, because you cannot play for the next two months with the squad we have at the moment."
As well as Giroud, Wenger is able to call upon Per Mertesacker, who missed the Sunderland match through illness. The Germany international is likely to be restored to central defence, with Carl Jenkinson dropping to the bench and Bacary Sagna moving to right-back, as Arsenal attempt to continue their remarkable form on their travels, which started with a 2-0 victory over Bayern Munich in the Allianz Arena in March, when they were eliminated from the Champions League on away goals.
Since that unexpected triumph against the German champions, Arsenal have gone on to win away from home against Swansea, West Brom, Fulham (twice), Queens Park Rangers, Newcastle, Fenerbahce and Sunderland, scoring 18 times and conceding only three.
"We're an exceptional team, that is the main thing," Mertesacker said. "We built that up from last season. We built our confidence up, especially the 10 games at the end of last season where we did not lose. You could feel it from the first day that there is something special, apart from the first game [against Aston Villa when Arsenal lost 3-1]. But nobody dropped and the performance went well after that as well. We have showed we are ready to keep our run going."
Stade Vélodrome, which resembles a building site with major work going on to redevelop the ground before the 2016 European Championships, would be a good place to make it 10 straight away wins. Marseille are no pushovers – they are fourth in Ligue 1 and have five France internationals in their squad – but in a so-called group of death that includes Borussia Dortmund, last season's runners-up in the Champions League, and Napoli, the runners-up in Serie A, this game may well represent Arsenal's best chance to pick up the away win that could be crucial to their hopes of reaching the knockout stage.
"If you look at the group, it is the hardest because all four teams have a chance to qualify, that means every game is very important, and on average you need 10 points to qualify, so that gives you the task," Wenger said. "We have a good away record – we have always been very audacious away. Sometimes at home, through some spells last season, we played a bit with the handbrake because we have not had the same confidence at the Emirates that we have away from home. But we will always try to play."