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Posted: 20/10/2011
By Michael Strevens
Category: Match Reports

Marseille 0-1 Arsenal: Last-gasp Rambo draws first blood

Team: Szczesny, Jenkinson (Djourou), Koscielny, Mertesacker, Santos, Song, Arteta, Rosicky, Walcott (Gervinho), Arshavin (Ramsey), van Persie

The Short Report

Aaron Ramsey’s last-gasp winner sent us to the top of Group F and was just reward for a disciplined away performance against a side who had dismantled Dortmund in their European outing. The victory means we are in pole position to reach the knock-out stages for the twelfth year on the spin.

The AL Report

Solidity, intelligence and composure are not words you would readily associate with our away performances this season, but we showed those attributes in spades tonight. Aaron Ramsey’s goal deep into stoppage time ensured we came away from France with a good, old-fashioned One-Nil-to-the-Arsenal that puts us clear at the summit of Group F.

In the pre-match build up, Arsene Wenger declared that our double header against Marseille would determine our progress in Europe, setting us the target of four points after both encounters. It was a clear indication from the boss that he would be playing it safe against opponents who, much like us, have found the Champions League a welcome distraction from troubles at home.

He made two changes from the side that beat Sunderland at the weekend. Andre Santos replaced the injured Kieran Gibbs, whilst Andrey Arshavin was preferred to Gervinho.

The Stade Velodrome, renowned as one of the most intimidating arenas in European football, has lost its lustre this year as building work has temporarily closed one of the main stands. The two sides, each sporting their away strips, walked out into a less intense atmosphere than would normally be expected. Perhaps we should have lent them the North Bank Mural as a sporting gesture?

Alex Song and Santos picked up unnecessary bookings as the game began with a flurry of errors. We could well have conceded an early penalty as Carl Jenkinson’s arm appeared to touch the ball in the box. L’OM winger Andre Ayew was yellow-carded for his protest and Didier Deschamps was furious on the touchline. Matters were evened up later in the half as we had an even clearer case for a spot-kick. This time it was another ex-Charlton man, Souleymane Diawara, who was guilty of handling. Replays showed him groping clumsily at Mikel Arteta’s corner.

We looked dangerous in patches, but were guilty of giving the ball away cheaply in our own half. Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny in particular, stood firm and restricted the hosts to half-chances for the most part, although there were a couple of scares. Loic Remy brilliantly turned Mertesacker on the byline and evaded Jenkinson, but could only fire wide. They went closer minutes later as Lucho failed to make the most of a probing Mathieu Valbuena cross.

We had opportunities on the break. Theo Walcott had the beating of his full-back and used his pace effectively, although his balls into the box were frequently disappointing. Robin van Persie had a header cleared off the line, whilst Santos was picked out beautifully by Arteta in space, but a heavy first touch meant we had to settle for a corner.

An assured start to the second half was almost undone as a searching Remy cross sparked pandemonium in in the box. We eventually cleared the danger and Marseille didn’t really cause us too many problems from then on. Jenkinson, who had an injury scare in the first-half, strained his knee and was replaced by Johan Djourou with just under half an hour left.

Minutes later we really should have taken the lead as Theo Walcott shrugged off a challenge in the box and had a clear sight of goal. His stabbed effort was brilliantly saved by Steve Mandanda, who stuck out his leg to force the corner. It was Walcott's last significant contribution of the night as he was hauled off shortly afterwards for Gervinho. It was yet another mixed bag from Theo – nearly six years into his Arsenal career and the jury is still very much out on whether he will fulfil his potential.

As the match reached its final stages we looked the more likely to take all three points and it was another substitution that proved to be decisive. Aaron Ramsey was sent on twelve minutes from time for Andrey Arshavin, who had struggled on the fringes of the game all night.

The Wales captain immediately added some sparkle to our midfield as we searched for a late winner -  which came in the final minute of injury time. Djourou won possession and whipped in an excellent ball into the area. Gervinho was unable to control it, but Ramsey was in exactly the right place at the right time. With unerring calmness, he controlled it neatly and swept it past Mandanda to seal a fantastic smash-and-grab victory.

Next up: Tony Pulis and his ramshackle band of pantomime villains bring their vaudeville act to the Emirates on Sunday.

Man of the Match

Laurent Koscielny has had his ups and downs since his arrival last year but he was immense tonight.  He stayed focused throughout, cut out danger early and was generally a calm and reassuring presence at the back. He is gradually forging a decent partnership with Per Mertesacker and the pair complemented each other well on the night. The challenge for him now is to play like this consistently and give the boss something to think about when Thomas Vermaelen returns to fitness.

Player Focus

Andrey Arshavin’s positive impact from the bench on Sunday raised hopes that he might be rediscovering his best form. Given the chance from the start in Marseille, he was back to the player we have become all too familiar with over the last couple of years: sluggish, disengaged and seemingly bereft of confidence. Halloween is still ten days away, but tonight the Russian was doing his best impression of a zombie.

Moan of the Match

We had a very good case for a handball penalty in the first half as did Marseille. The real gripe though was that Mikel Arteta was wrongly booked for a challenge on Andre Ayew. Thankfully, the resulting free-kick came to nothing, but it was frustrating that the referee was conned by the Ghanaian’s exaggerated tumble. It could prove costly if Mikel were to receive another yellow card in the remaining group games.

The Final Word

Our performance tonight was far from perfect, but it was so satisfying to be the ones inflicting a last-minute defeat rather than being the victims.  We stuck at our task, kept asking questions of the Marseille defence and just about deserved all three points in the end. Beating them again at home in a couple of weeks would all but guarantee qualification, which would allow us to focus our energies on the league.

Our back four has rightly come in for a lot of criticism lately but they were superb tonight. Mertesacker and Koscielny worked well together whilst both full-backs nullified the L’OM wingers whilst offering a useful outlet in attack. Let’s hope Carl Jenkinson’s knee problem isn’t too serious because he would surely take an awful lot of confidence from his last two displays. Santos should be able to iron out the rough edges in his game the longer he stays in the team.

Aaron Ramsey scoring at the death has immediately become one of the best moments of a traumatic campaign so far. His form has fluctuated along with our fortunes, but he is a class act. For obvious reasons, it would be so sweet if he could repeat the trick against Stoke at the weekend.

 

Follow me on Twitter: @Mike_N5

Category

2011-12 | Match Reports

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