Tottenham broke Arsenal hearts to clinch Champions League return now they face FOUR former Gunners in Marseille opener
IF returning to Champions League football was sweet for Tottenham, it was made more delicious by seizing fourth place from Arsenal.
And tonight, in their first match back in European football’s elite competition, Spurs face a Marseille side who include four former Gunners in their squad, with three expected in their starting line-up.
Chants of ‘Arsenal reject’ are sure to resound around the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium as Matteo Guendouzi, Sead Kolasinac and Nuno Tavares, on loan from the Emirates, line up for the visitors.
Memories of their bitter rivals’ late-season choke — including a 3-0 North London derby drubbing which featured the eccentric full-back Tavares as a sub — will be fondly remembered.
Even with another one-time Gooner, Alexis Sanchez, suspended tonight, the French club could name nine players who have been at Premier League clubs in their starting line-up.
Dimitri Payet, who admits he left West Ham in ‘brutal’ fashion in 2017, will play in attack, while Eric Bailly, on loan from Manchester United, is expected to line up in a back three alongside Kolasinac and ex-Newcastle man Chancel Mbemba.
Former Aston Villa midfielder Jordan Veretout is also expected to start in a Prem Old Boys select side, along with keeper Pau, who was loaned to Spurs without getting first-team experience, and Luis Suarez — no, not that one — who was a kid at Watford.
Marseille boss Igor Tudor, a former Juventus team-mate of Spurs manager Antonio Conte, insists the trio of Arsenal ‘flops’ who will feature tonight have been in excellent form.
He said: “I saw these three players feeling this special thing, something particular about playing Tottenham.
“We are really happy to have them because they have plenty of quality. Sead didn’t play as much but against Auxerre in our last match, he was the best player on the pitch. Nuno has been fantastic on the wing and everyone knows the quality Matteo has.”
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The hot-headed, curly-haired Guendouzi was bombed out by Gunners boss Mikel Arteta after a stormy defeat at Brighton in 2020, when he was alleged to have taunted opposition players about how much money he earned.
He is already said to have clashed with Tudor, although he is expected to be part of the France squad when Les Bleus defend the World Cup in Qatar this winter.
But as the financial strength of English football gets mightier still, plenty of major clubs — including Marseille — are filling their ranks with players discarded by Premier League sides.
It feels as if there are two types of opposition players for English clubs in the Champions League group stage — those who have played in the Premier League and failed, and those hoping to secure a future move here.
Payet is an exception, having forced a move from West Ham to Marseille — a saga which destroyed his hero status with Hammers fans.
But Payet admits that, increasingly, it is the dream of every footballer to ply their trade in England.
The French playmaker, 35, said: “Playing in the Premier League helped me realise a dream. Playing in England is everyone’s dream, particularly now that the teams are getting stronger and stronger.
“I had 18 months full of emotion and excitement. It was a personal choice I made, a family-based choice as well.
“Since I left West Ham, I’ve stayed at Marseille and don’t intend to go to any other club.
“I know it was a brutal decision when I left, but I hope over the course of the years, West Ham fans have come to accept why I left.”
But Payet reckons Marseille have a better chance tonight given that so many of their team have experienced Premier League football.
He said: “It’s important because we are acclimatised to the intensity of English football.
“I played some derbies against Spurs when I was at West Ham and I know how intense they were — although the stadium was smaller when I was here.”
Boss Tudor, a former Croatian international, has overseen an unbeaten start to Marseille’s Ligue 1 campaign, with five wins from six.
He admits Conte was a mentor to him as a young player at Juve but insists his team trained in France, rather than having a practice session at the match venue, because he believed Conte and Spurs’ football director Fabio Paratici would have spied on his team.
He said: “If we trained here, Antonio will see, and Fabio Parataci, who I know from Juventus, will see. They would have been there with the cameras.”
MARSEILLE (likely): Pau, Mbemba, Bailly, Kolasinac, Clauss, Rongier, Veretout, Tavares, Guendouzi, Payet, Suarez.
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