Our first Champions League group game of the year saw us up against last years Ligue 1 runners up, Marseille. Despite being the second seeds, Marseille are widely considered the weakest in a group consisting of Arsenal, Dortmund and Napoli. Whether or not this is true, they were never going to be a walkover and we really needed to be on our game tonight, as we should really be aiming to get six points off our two games against the French team.
We were anything but that in the opening half, with one of the worst displays from this Arsenal team I’ve seen in a long, long time. There were stray passes all over the pitch, wrong decisions made, and far too much space was given to the French opposition. Almost every chance was falling to Marseille, and although Szczesny wasn’t really tested, a number of shots went just high or wide. Decisions didn’t seem to be going our way, with a couple of high feet not being given in our favour and a couple of soft fouls going against us, but we certainly didn’t deserve anything more than the scoreless draw at the break.
I really hoped that Arsene would give them the ‘hairdryer treatment’ at half time, but they came out for the second half and didn’t look much better. Right after kick off the ball made it’s way to French right back Rod Fanni just inside our area, who struck the ball beautifully towards the far post, and I was sure for a split second that it was heading in. Thankfully it flashed just past the post and the game remained nil-nil.
Arsenal got their best, and indeed first real chance minutes later after a great one-two between Gibbs and Özil saw the young German back-heel a ball beautifully into Gibbs’ path eight yards from the goal. The full back was instantly swamped by the defenders and did well to get his shot away, producing a good reaction save from the Marseille Keeper Mandanda.
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With almost an hour gone, we still weren’t looking our usual selves, but we were finally starting to carve out some chances. A great cross field ball from Sagna found Wilshere in acres of space in the opposing box. He attempted to place a shot near post rather than going for power and Mandanda was again able to make the save, pushing it out for a corner.
Moments later it looked as though our poor display was finally going to catch up with his when Mertesacker made a complete mess of a clearance, slicing the ball backwards and over Szczesny who had come to claim it. Marseille striker Gignac would have been there to nod it home had it not been for an excellent goal line header away by Gibbs.
Marseille might have been wondering how they hadn’t scored when a similar mistake was made up the other end of the pitch. Their left back made a hash of a Gibbs cross, and it fell to Walcott who had not been having a great night so far. If any goal line headers were attempted we probably would have seen a decapitation however, as he volleyed an absolute rocket high into the back of the net. This was Theo’s first goal of the season so let’s hope he kicks on and repeats or even betters his return from last season.
After our goal we looked a lot more settled and composed on the ball, and in truth we never looked like losing once we’d scored. We were defending a lot better and creating a few chances. Giroud’s first touch let him down in front of goal on a couple of occasions, and he sent a free header wide from a corner, if the Frenchman had his shooting boots on he could have got a goal or two on the night.
Some poor refereeing looked like it could punish us, when not only did Andre Ayew handle the ball in the area, he proceeded to drag Flamini to the floor after being dispossessed. The referee apparently saw nothing wrong though and play continued. Thankfully our defence dealt with the threat well, and when it eventually fell to Valbuena he stabbed the shot wide.
Although none of the team played particularly well tonight, Ramsey had arguably once again been our best player. Just in case this was in doubt, he decided to put the nail in Marseille’s coffin with some tricky footwork at the edge of the box, and a cool finish past the keeper to make it two nil. The commentators noting that he had scored the winner against Marseille two years ago as a boy, and now once again as a man, and it’s true the Welshman really has blossomed into an excellent player and a vital cog in the Arsenal machine.
Ramsey was very unlucky to give away a penalty in the dying minutes of extra time, his touch getting away from him allowed Andre Ayew to race onto the ball, and while Aaron got his toe to the ball the referee pointed to the spot. Andre’s brother Jordan dispatched it high into the right corner, giving Szczesny no chance.
With 2-1 the final score, after a less than stellar performance and despite missing out on the clean sheet, a win is a win in the group stages, and an away win is even better. Napoli, who we face in 2 weeks at the Emirates, beat Dortmund by the same score and should prove more of a challenge. A great start to this years Champions League campaign, but we’ll need to be a lot better against Napoli and Dortmund if we want to top the group.
on the game…
Marseille had a very good first half but we didn’t make big mistakes at the back and were patient enough to win it in the second half. I felt we were a bit within ourselves in the first half, a bit timid, and Marseille were more mobile and first on the ball. They dropped in the second half and we took advantage of our strong moments. That got us three very important points.
on Aaron Ramsey…
Honestly, I didn’t expect him to score so many goals. He’s especially improved in his passing, his technical quality. He was always in good positions in the box, but scoring is a bit cyclic. You have periods when it goes in and others when it doesn’t. For me the most important thing is the quality of his game.
on Ramsey reaching a high performance level after injury…
I decided to be patient with him because when you have been injured for such a long time it takes a while to get back to your best. The only thing is, you never know if he will come completely back. But when you are injured before 20, you come back to your normal level and improve like you have not been injured.
The errors are crucial. The first team that scores usually wins the game. The stats are very simple here – 78 per cent of the time when the team score first they win the game. That was the case tonight – an illustration of what I just said.
I knew Marseille would be difficult. I think the only the people that don’t think Marseille can make it tough for us is people from Marseille.
on Ozil and Wilshere’s impact…
I felt we didn’t change sides enough in the first half and didn’t find Jack or Ozil enough. But Marseille defended very well and stopped us from playing through the lines. We didn’t go in enough behind and overall there was not enough purpose in our game. I insisted more on that at half-time.
on Ramsey being one of the most in-form midfielders in Europe…
I don’t know if anybody is playing better. For me, I don’t look at it like that. Aaron is playing well and that is most important, so is that he continues to improve. I thought it would be a tricky game here tonight. Before the game I was conscious Marseille would be well focussed. They know they are not favourites, they had nothing to lose and the French are dangerous when they are in that position. I knew it was important to get three points here if we want to have a chance. I said yesterday we needed 10 points at least so to start with three is good.
on 10 successive away wins…
We always try to win and it has worked in recent months. We played many away games where you expect us to be in a position where we can win the game. But what is interesting is the consistency we have shown and that creates belief.
on if Marseille are out now…
No, I don’t think so. If you remember two years ago the first game we came here and won. Marseille then went to Dortmund and won, qualifying from the group. I do think they have to take positives from aspects of today’s game and continue.
Sagna Koscielny Mertesacker(c) Gibbs
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