I noticed yesterday that in the aftermath of our glorious win over Chelsea, the West Brom game on Saturday has suddenly sold out. Our last five home matches have not been sell-outs, so no doubt people are snapping up tickets again on the back of the feelgood factor a 5-3 victory at your local rivals can bring. However, anyone attending last night’s match expecting a similar performance were brought back down to earth with a nasty bump.
The verve and zip in our attacking play wasn’t there and in the whole 90 minutes we only created two or three good chances. Wenger put it down to tiredness and others to the absence of van Persie. I agree there are elements of truth to both of those
excuses reasons, but we lacked the determination and drive I expected us to show.
Having witnessed us come out all guns blazing for the second half at Stamford Bridge, I was confident of seeing more of the same last night. The first five minutes after the break on Saturday were superb — everybody was up for it and there was a steel and desire about our game.
We didn’t start like that last night though. Instead it was Marseille who were pumped up and focused from the first whistle while we chased shadows and seemed surprised at how well they moved the ball. Had we underestimated them and thought the match would be easier than it proved following their poor performance in the first game?
Indeed the visitors could have been 3-0 up inside the opening 15 minutes. Wenger pointed to the fact Marseille only had one shot on target all night as a positive, but that’s blatantly ignoring the chance Jordan Ayew backheeled into the side netting, another one he stabbed just wide from a right wing cross and a lovely give and go which saw Andre Ayew curl a left footer inches the wrong side of Szczesny’s post.
Once we did get into our stride Walcott had a decent effort tipped wide, Ramsey blazed over at the back post and the Welshman then hesitated too long when he should have shot. That apart we didn’t trouble their keeper until the 77th minute when van Persie tried to chip Mandanda but used a 6 iron instead of his wedge.
Not even Gervinho could unlock a solid Marseille defence
The decision to rest van Persie has proved to be controversial but I think it was the right call. We need to protect him because we’re so reliant on him and also because we have nobody who even gets close to being good enough to replace him — ironically, last night proved that. Park looked lost out there, like a little boy who realised the grown ups were much better than him and wanted his mummy to come and take him home. It was difficult leading the line on his own when he hasn’t played with the first team before and I refuse to judge him until he’s settled and played more. I think he will get better, but Wenger could do with buying a decent striker should one become available in January.
As for the rest of them, Gervinho and Walcott looked lively again but faded badly after the break. Ramsey couldn’t replicate his performance on Saturday and looked tired, while Santos did well going forward but looked dodgy defensively again. He needs to get fit quickly.
Mertesacker had his best game so far I think, making good interceptions and tackles, while Vermaelen played like he’d never been away. I think that centre half combination has promise and would allow us to shift Koscielny to right back until Sagna returns, because although Jenkinson is doing ok for a young kid, we need better than ok if we’re to challenge for fourth place and have an impact in Europe. Twice last night he passed the ball straight out of play when trying to find Walcott — he is just too raw to be expected to play game after game in matches of this intensity and importance. It would be better to play him occasionally and then take him out of the firing line for a while, like you should do with any youngster and like Wenger is correctly doing with Oxlade-Chamberlain.
So we had to settle for a point and a goalless draw, our first since the opening day of the season. It’s not a bad result by any means — we still top the group and every Gooner I know would’ve settled for four points from our two encounters with Marseille. Also, it means should we finish level on points with the French side, we’d come out on top because of our better aggregate score over the two games.
It’s just a shame we couldn’t ride the wave of euphoria Saturday brought a little longer. In a couple of years time when people say “Do you remember the 5-3 at Stamford Bridge?” Gooners will reply “Of course!” When asked to recall who we played in the next game, nobody will remember — this boring anti-climax will have long since been wiped from the memory banks.
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