“Overall we were always in control and our only regret is that we could have scored more goals.”
The Prof’s words summed it up pretty well. But then one glance at the Marseille bench showed us all how they approached the game: most of their star players, Thauvin, Valbuena, Cheyrou and Mendy, were all subs. But then they are facing a run of nine games in 30 days and had already been knocked out of the Champions’ League, so it was easy to see why they wouldn’t be going all out in this game.
Arsenal dominated the game, simple as that. We had some phases with a degree of intensity in our play, but with a goal in the bag after a minute, and facing unambitious opponents, we coasted for much of the game. Wenger was right, we controlled the match throughout and really should have won by more than two goals. The Özil penalty miss and Ramsey’s shot at the keeper when he was played in by Wilshere were the most obvious examples of goals that should have been, but even in a game played very much in second gear, there were numerous other efforts that presented great chances for us to score.
Not that the penalty should have been given, Ramsey, following his cute turn past the Marseille defenders, was tripped just outside the box, not inside. But in seeming recognition of the lack of justice in the penalty decision, Özil’s effort was as poor a penalty as one could wish to see: not enough power, not in the corner and at the perfect height for the keeper. Still, the miss seemed to kick-start Özil’s game, he was much better after it, including in winning a dangerous free-kick moments after the penalty miss.
The training ground bragging rights for the game went to young dad, Jack Wilshere. Some disagreed, but I thought Wilshere had an excellent game at the weekend against Southampton, and that form continued tonight. He notched his first brace, starting with a lovely shot into the far corner after half a minute and then finishing crisply in the second half when played in by Özil. Wilshere was also unlucky not to get two or three assists, with Ramsey and Özil not finishing chances he created.
On the few occasions that Marseille mustered an attack, the defence and Szczesny had things covered. TPIG made a couple of smart saves (is there a better keeper these days for diving at a player’s feet?), and when Thauvin thought Szczesny’s save would not keep out his shot, the quietly brilliant Monreal was there to boot it off the line.
Rosicky and Flamini’s inclusion in the starting XI saw the two veterans turn out some good performances too. When Flamini holds his position as he did tonight, and sits as a shield for the defence, he really is excellent, and he clearly has a good understanding with the centre-backs. As for Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny and Giroud, like the team, they played within themselves, but what they did, they did well. Walcott, Cazorla and Arteta got run-outs too – there wasn’t much to report there, other than to say that Santi looked a bit rusty in his passing and shooting.
We should have won by more than two, that’s obvious, but I didn’t feel that annoyed at a lack of ruthlessness. From the first minute, it was obvious to everyone and his chien that we were going to win; goal difference didn’t matter either; and we have an away trip on the weekend to a team that has beaten Man City and drawn with Man United, so energy conservation was justified. We did what we needed to do to win, and not a lot more.
So, going into the last match, the group is balanced as we had all thought, with the astonishing possibility of three teams finishing on 12 points now closer than ever. We should go to Naples with the confidence that we are better than them: the bare minimum for qualification is that we should avoid losing by three goals, and to say the least, that should be achievable; I would say we should aim at getting one or three points in the final game, which would mean we would secure top spot in the group. Qualifying from this group, as we should, will represent a real achievement.
One quick word about our friends from SW5: you lost to Basel, twice? Pl*nkers!
Written by 26May