Arles-Avignon set for swift return

PARIS - Arles-Avignon will be relegated if they lose to Valenciennes on Sunday, seven games before the season's end, but a burning desire to avoid being the worst ever side in the French top-flight means the fight is not quite over.

Avignon is famous for its association with Popes down the years but the beautiful city just north of Marseille had little connection to football until the team from neighbouring Arles, known for bullfighting, moved into town.

The merged side took Ligue 2 by the horns and won promotion to the top-flight for the first time last term.

Their rise up the ladder of French football has been astonishing, four promotions in five seasons, so their demise this season against the creme de la creme of the Gallic game is not overly surprising despite some notable signings.

The bottom side, who boast ex-Real Madrid defender Francisco Pavon and ex-Celtic centre-back Bobo Balde, have amassed 13 points from 30 games and a home defeat on Sunday will mean the end of their relegation battle with 17th-placed Caen on 35.

But it may be only the start of their struggle to better Racing Lens' record Ligue 1 lowest points total of 17 in 1989.

Arles have improved in recent weeks, drawing 0-0 at 2009 champions Bordeaux 0-0 last weekend.

"When I am almost in Ligue 2 I can't be satisfied even if I am proud of my team for not giving up," coach Faruk Hadzibegic told reporters.

Bordeaux's failure to win against the league's whipping boys has led to renewed soul-searching on the west coast with Jean Tigana's side eighth and struggling to bag a Europa League spot.

A tougher prospect awaits on Saturday when they go to leaders Lille, smarting from last weekend's defeat at Monaco but also fortunate their rivals did not take full advantage.

Lille lead champions Olympique Marseille by three points and Olympique Lyon by five ahead of the duo visiting Montpellier and Paris Saint-Germain respectively on Sunday.