Marseille 0 – 1 Arsenal: Match Report
Now, this was not a game for the purists of total football – for those who love sexy moves and scintillating finishes: the Arsenal of ‘old’ (at least for now). It will not go into the history books as one of Arsenal’s great CL evenings, but let’s not fool ourselves: this was a critical win for Arsenal.
Before the game, I thought about the likely consequences if we would have lost tonight. The media-scripts were, without any doubt, ready to be released by our friends from the redtops. At this brittle period of rebuilding our team, the CL qualification and subsequent group results have been the one shining light in the dark tunnel of the 2011-2012 season. A loss today and the media would have been putting their daggers into that last bit of success and dignity that Arsenal have been hanging onto this season, the Doomers would have joined them en masse, and we all would have really suffered from it. Even the biggest optimist would have struggled to keep the belief.
Yet tonight, Arsenal made an important step forward, and we should be all pleased by this. Arsenal are now top of the group and Marseille and Dortmund still have to come to the Emirates. All at once, there is reason for some renewed optimism. It was not beautiful, it was not sexy, but it was just what the doctor ordered. Games like these can lay the foundation for a turnaround of fortunes.
Both teams started nervously with a lack of ball control/possession and some defensive mistakes as well. It was tight in midfield and Marseille made it hard for us to dominate the game. However, after a while we started to make a number of good runs on the right-hand side, which led to some good, and some not-so-good crosses into the box. Unfortunately, the Marseille defence dealt with these easily albeit at the expense of a number of corners. From one of those corners we produced our best chance in the first half. Diawara cleared a header from Robin van Persie off the line, but we should have had a penalty, moments before that, when the same Diawara – very cunningly – had handled the ball in the air.
Marseille best chance came after 30 minutes: the occasionally impressive Remy showed some great agility to leave the BFG rooted to the ground (or should that be: anchored to the sea-floor?), and to get past Jenkinson. However, the latter was just able to stick his foot brilliantly in front of Remy’s diagonal shot at goal, and his attempt was deflected past our goal.
Just before the end of the first half,Santos did something inexplicable. Already on a yellow card, he decided to handle the ball whilst under no pressure to do so. It could have so easily been a second yellow card, and the team would have been put under immense pressure for the rest of the game. Santos, who really impressed me at the Emirates against Sunderland on Sunday, had a bit of a shocker of a first half, but luckily he improved somewhat during the second half.
Arsenal, as so often this season, started the second half really well. Jenkinson, who had already impressed during the first half, showed great energy and determination to make a difference on the right, but was not helped by a few sloppy passes from Walcott and Rosicky at this stage. Jenkinson had to come off and Djourou replaced him. I am sure, I was not the only one to think that Marseille would now start to test the right-hand side of our defence, but just as they had not tried to put more pressure on Santos in the second half, they also refrained from targeting Djourou. The referee even helped them by giving Johan a yellow card almost straightaway, and unjustly so! It only then dawned on me that Marseille were actually aiming for a draw.
After 60 minutes, Song and Rosicky combined to play the ball to Theo just inside the box. Walcott got past the throughout-the-game very impressive N’Koulou, but his shot is too soft and too close to the goalie. Arsenal keep dominating without creating too many chances, as both Song and Arteta become stronger and stronger in the second half. Wenger changed Theo for Gervinho and straightaway there was more threat and creativity to our attacking play. Gervinho did really well to run past a few Marseille players and to play a great ball into box for Robin. Unfortunately, van Persie needed to use his right foot and his shot was stopped by the also impressive Mandada. It then looked like we were heading for a draw, which in itself would not have been a bad result for us.
But there was a final sting in the tale, and justice was done. The only team that tried to play football in the second half was rewarded for its efforts. Johan Djourou puts in an early cross and, for once, Robin van Persie is not alone in the box – Gervinho is there as well – and the Marseille defence is under pressure. Gervinho tries to control Djourou’s cross, but inadvertently (?), he produces the perfect assist for Ramsey, who also made a good run into the box. Ramsey controls the ball well with his first touch and finds time and space to coolly slot the ball, with a low, hard and placed shot, past the goalkeeper’s right-hand side. Ramsey, another one of our players who received a lot of criticism from his own fans recently, showed some great maturity at that moment in time – and just as much as Arsenal made a step forward today, he made one himself as well.
Szczesny: not much to do, but was calm and confident (which goes a long way) – 6.5
Mertesacker: read the game well defensively, but was often hesitant passing the ball going forward, and once or twice to static in the box. I still like him a lot and he is just what we need at the moment – 6.5
Koscielny: incredible, gutsy performance. He and Mertesacker compliment each other really well and over time this could become a good partnership – 7.5 Joint man of the match
Santos: gave the ball away a lot, and already on (an unjust) yellow card, he decided to handle the ball. He looked tired and slow, but also showed some glimpses of real quality –5
Jenkinson: very impressive game, defensively and especially going forward. I just loved his energy and eagerness, and in my view, he set an example to some of his colleagues tonight – 7.5 Joint man of the match
Rosicky: struggled at large parts of the game to impose himself and seemed to disappear a lot. But he does bring shape to our team and has plenty of class –6
Arteta: a solid performance, doing a lot of the hard, often unnoticed, work in front of our defence. I like this guy a lot – 7
Song: he is a bit like an old-fashioned locomotive: he seems to start games rusty, even clumsy, and slowly, but the longer the game goes on, the sharper and stronger he becomes, and at the end of the game he is just unbelievable! –7
Arshavin: not a good game. Tried to set up a few attacks but just did not work out for him on the day. Gave the ball away too many times – 5
Van Persie: worked hard for the team, but was often isolated, and surrounded by a couple of very strong CB’s. The introduction of Gervinho seemed to really make a difference for him and he almost scored at the end –7
Walcott: a couple of decent runs and crosses into the box, and some good defensive support at times, but we did not get enough from him this game – 5.5
Johan Djourou – did ok after a couple of very difficult months for him, and played a good, aggressive cross into the box that led to Ramsey’s goal –6
Gervinho – brought class, aggression and incisiveness to our attacking play – 6.5
Ramsey – made a difference straightaway and a great goal to win the match – 6.5