Arsenal v Marseille
UEFA Champions League
Kick off: November 26, 2013 7:45 PM BST
Tonight’s Champions League game against Marseille was a bit of a mixed bag before kick off. Many were confident that we would easily brush them aside, with them having gained a far from impressive zero points in the group so far. Others believed however, that now they are out of the running, they could be more dangerous. With nothing to play for it was a possibility they could play with more freedom, and that some of the fringe players would have something to prove to their manager.
Whatever your thoughts on our own game, your mind was probably also on the corresponding game in our group, Napoli travelling to Germany to face Dortmund. Providing we got the win against Marseille, anything other than a win for Dortmund would mean qualification was guaranteed for Arsenal. A win for the Germans would put them on nine points along with Napoli, and would leave us on twelve points but still not guaranteed qualification.
The team news came through and apparently Gibbs was suffering from illness. Personally I would have put Monreal in anyway, as I think Gibbs deserves a rest and I don’t feel Nacho is much of a step down; if at all. Flamini was back in after his domestic suspension, but he was partnered in midfield by Aaron Ramsey, not (vice) captain Mikel Arteta. Wilshere and Rosicky were played out wide, with Özil taking up his usual place in the number ten role. Marseille fielded a slightly less than full strength squad, but like I said previously, those fringe players with something to prove can often be the most dangerous.
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We got off to a dream start after just thirty seconds, with Giroud pulling the left back out of position, giving Wilshere acres of space to run onto a Sagna pass. The Englishmen cut inside looking for a team mate, but with no obvious passes available and with the goal mouth opening up for him, he opted to shoot instead. He opened his foot and curled the ball beautifully across the face of the goal, Mandanda watching helplessly as the ball flew into the top corner. 1-0 Arsenal.
A few minutes later it looked for all the world like we would double our lead, more good work by Wilshere down the right allowing him the time and space to set up Ramsey for a tap in. The in form Welshman somehow managed to hit the keeper from a few yards out though and was left with his hands on his head, jaw dropped in disbelief.
The game quietened down a bit after that, with Arsenal a little sloppy with some of their passing, but Marseille not really looking threatening when they did get on the ball. Özil was having a poor first half, first with his touch letting him down after being put through on goal by Ramsey. Then his finishing abandoning him, when he got a chance from the spot after more good work from Ramsey. The Welsh wizard flicked the ball beautifully over the head of a Marseille defender, but was cynically brought down before he could run onto it. It looked like the foul may have been marginally outside of the box, but the referee pointed to the spot. Özil’s staggered run left him in an awkward shooting position, and his powerless shot was easily saved by Mandanda. The French keeper had actually shuffled a yard or two off of his line, which the fourth official decided to completely ignore from all of 6 feet away. It was a poor penalty though and didn’t deserve to be converted.
We went into the break with a 1-0 lead, but despite Marseille’s poor performance so far, it was not a comfortable score line, and I was very disappointed we hadn’t taken more of the multitude of chances we had created.
Thankfully Marseille weren’t any better at the start of the second half, and we continued our dominance. Giroud saw his effort sail inches wide when a deflected shot sent Mandanda the wrong way. The linesman was having a terrible night, adjudging Özil offside twice and Giroud once, when in fact they were both onside and through on goal. When Özil did eventually manage to ‘beat the flag’, he was denied by a good save from the French keeper, but the German was having a much better second half.
Thankfully we kept creating chances, and midway through the second half a good Ramsey pass put Özil in behind the French defence, and he squared it for Wilshere to slam home. It was Wilshere’s first brace for Arsenal and it’s great to see how much scoring for his club means to him.
Marseille looked a lot more dangerous with the late substitutions of Valbuena and Thauvin, Thauvin in particular looking pacey, skilful, and extremely dangerous. Szczesny hadn’t had too much to do, but he had to be alert when the young Frenchman got a snap shot away, low and hard towards the bottom corner. Szczesny was up to the task though, and got down well to keep the ball out with strong wrists. Thauvin threatened once again with his pace and movement, Szczesny racing out to meet him and saving the eventual shot. The ball ricocheted off the young Pole’s body and was looping towards the goal, but Monreal got back well to clear the ball off the line; an excellent performance from the Spanish left back, despite not playing regularly at the moment.
Cazorla and Walcott came on in the latter stages of the game, both spurning excellent scoring opportunities, shooting high and wide respectively. Cazorla wasn’t looking particularly sharp, Walcott was showing good movement and making good runs though, despite only recently returning from injury.
The game finished 2-0, and we remained top of the group on twelve points. Amazingly however, this wasn’t enough to guarantee us through to the next round, with Dortmund beating Napoli 3-1. This game was another example of what we have this season that has often been missing, our ability to win games without playing our best. Our creativity and attacking flair now seems to be based on a far more steady foundation, and many are finally starting to see our credentials. We travel to Napoli for our next and final Champions League group game, anything but a loss will guarantee us the top spot in the group, which we desperately need, as looking at the state of the other groups I feel it’s vital we top our group to avoid some of Europe’s big guns like Barca, Madrid and Bayern Munich.
on a comfortable evening…
We were in control of the game and overall we were never really under threat tonight. We had a good control – maybe sometimes we were missing the cutting edge to finish the game off early on but we felt so much in control that we just played on, thinking that would come. It came a bit late for my taste but it came.
on Wenger saying Wilshere wasn’t a regular goalscorer…
If I’m wrong, I’m happy! I liked his first goal. Before, he rushed a little bit. He’s starting to think ‘what Ramsey can do, I can do as well’. He’s calm in front of goal and especially the first goal shows that.
on having 12 points and still not being qualified…
It’s unbelievable but it’s reality. We have to finish the job. It is not an easy situation – it is a tricky situation because you can think ‘OK, let’s just not lose big’ but I think that would be a mistake. [We need to] go there, play in a positive way and try to win the game. Everything else would be a dangerous gamble. Having said that, Marseille will play the last game at home to Dortmund – they haven’t lost [that game] yet. They will have to turn up. They will be under pressure to at least take some points from this group stage.
on if he will field a strong team in Naples…
Yes. We have a big programme – I will have to rotate a little bit until then. We have three Premier League games just before we go to Naples so I’ll have to use my squad well without dropping points in the league, and go there with a very strong team.
on if it’s a nuisance…
It is the reality. It’s the first time I’ve seen that in over 150 Champions League games [having 12 points at this stage and not being certain of qualification].
I think in the first game against us they played very well. They chased after the ball very well tonight and had some young players looking for experience. That would have been good experience for them tonight. I think the fact that Marseille is a team and a city that lives through its football team means that naturally they are always explosive in their attitude.
on Florian Thauvin…
I think when he and Valbuena came on they were more incisive and more dangerous going forward.
on Wilshere adding goals to his game…
My comment about Aaron was a joke but I think that it puts in his mind that he has to score goals as well, certainly when you play football you want your midfielders to score goals.
on Flamini cutting his sleeves…
Yes. I don’t like that and he will not do that again. Yes [it is a club tradition] and I was surprised. We don’t want that.
on Ozil’s missed penalty…
That’s good news for England, maybe! I agree that everybody can miss a penalty. I think his run-up to the ball was a bit short, but it’s the way he takes them.
on Wilshere playing wide…
He played as a young boy on the flank, on the right side. If I would block him [make him stay] on the flank I understand that he cannot play there, but he is quite free to move inside. He does that in an intelligent way. Sometimes you can find freedom in positions where usually you would be marked if you played more central.
on maturity in his team…
We give out at the moment… is it a conjunction of the fact we have a level of confidence because we have good results recently, or we have matured? I think it’s a bit of both. We give the feeling that defensively we master well the situation.
on expecting more from Marseille…
You never know before the game. Perhaps we were a bit too strong tonight, I don’t know.
on not qualifying yet…
Listen, this is just pure and simple the result of Marseille being on zero points. They won’t want to finish on zero points so hopefully against Dortmund they will play like they did against us in Marseille. If they do that they have a chance and if they draw that would send us through.
“Jack is everywhere at the moment.”
“Aaron Ramsey is several footballers in one. In this game he’s tidied up in deep midfield, burst forward, played No 10 and crossed from wide.”
“I’m gonna beat that linesman with his flag”
“Look at us with our weak squad, only able to bring on Theo Walcott and Santi Cazorla.”
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Sagna Koscielny Mertesacker(c) Monreal
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