Arsenal did just enough to claim victory over a lacklustre Marseille and top Group F, but just as importantly gave themselves a massive confidence boost in the process.
After a disappointing start to the season we’ve now won five of our last six games in all competitions despite not getting anywhere near the performance levels of recent seasons. Tonight was no different but we looked much better, especially defensively, although worries remain that a creative spark is missing — the lamented Fabregas is never far from my thoughts when watching us these days.
Marseille started quite brightly as you’d expect from a side with six points out of six, while we were slightly edgy. We survived a handball scare on 14 minutes when a cross hit Jenkinson’s arm and Koscielny had to make a good sliding tackle on a Marseille player in the box as we hit the 20 minute mark second best.
Then we won a corner which was whipped in and handled very sneakily by a defender — so sneakily that nobody noticed it until the replay. van Persie had a header cleared off the line in the aftermath and from then on we got hold of the game and controlled possession.
We couldn’t make any telling chances with it though and therein lies a worrying problem at the moment. The guile of Nasri and Fabregas is proving difficult to replace and we didn’t have another chance of note until midway through the second half.
On the positive side, we restricted Marseille to just one chance in the whole match, when Loic Remy got past Mertesacker on the half hour mark and Jenkinson made a decent block to send his shot wide for their only corner of the entire match.
After the break Marseille retreated into their shell, well aware that a point tonight and another in the return tie would see them sitting pretty at the top of the group. It was a strange and risky strategy, but manager Didier Deschamps has been under enormous pressure lately with his side underachieving and languishing in mid-table (sound familiar?) so the hosts sat back and the game suffered as a spectacle.
We created only two good chances — firstly when Walcott took advantage of hesitant defending and should have done better with a close range shot. Secondly when van Persie ran onto Gervinho’s clever pass and saw his shot saved at the near post just as the clock ticked past 90 minutes.
Ramsey fires Arsenal to the top of the group
The chance for an important victory seemed to have gone, but I would’ve taken a point at 7.45pm so wasn’t too dispirited. Then Djourou delivered a sweeping cross from deep, Gervinho
dummied and the ball fell for substitute Ramsey to control and fire home at the near post. Get in!
Watching the replay I noticed we had three men in the box for Djourou’s cross. This says a lot about the positive attitude we had away from home in the 93rd minute of a match in which a draw would’ve been a good outcome. Our endeavour was rewarded and Marseille got exactly what they deserved for trying to stifle the game — nothing.
So three points and a clean sheet — exactly what the doctor ordered for a beleaguered side low on confidence. While Marseille were hardly throwing the kitchen sink at us, Koscielny and Mertesacker did everything asked of them and were very good. I can’t remember the last time Szczesny didn’t have a save of note to make so credit to the defence for protecting him so well.
Koscielny was easily Man of the Match — I’ve criticised him when he’s deserved it in the past and so I’ll praise him when he deserves it tonight. He made some telling interceptions and kept a good line with Mertesacker. I think he must have been reading my blog and adjusted his game accordingly! Let’s hope he can repeat the performance against the bigger challenge of Stoke on Sunday. Consistency is the key to becoming a great player — his last Man of the Match performance was against Barcelona in February, so hopefully he and the rest of the defence can build on tonight. Let’s not forget the Blackburn debacle came just four days after an excellent point in Dortmund so a lesson is there to be learned.
Somebody who definitely finds consistency hard to come by is Arshavin. After a glittering cameo on Sunday I was really hopeful he would turn it on again tonight, but he looked disinterested and lethargic. Santos also underachieved but he is still not fully fit so the jury must remain out. As for Arteta, he wasn’t at his creative best and hasn’t been for a few games now after a bright start to his Arsenal career — let’s hope it’s a temporary blip.
Nevertheless I go to bed a happier Gooner than I woke, encouraged that we are slowly improving and knowing there is much more to come from us. Man Utd are constantly lauded for sneaking late wins without being at their fluent best, so tonight we deserve similar credit and can all but seal qualification if we beat Marseille in the next match — what a good night’s work!
Follow oohtobeagooner on Facebook
for more latest Arsenal transfer news, injury news, team news and rumours.