Do you remember when the media were gleefully rubbing their hands in anticipation of Arsenal not even making the group stages of this year’s Champions League? Of course you do, how could you forget? Well, last night, in Marseille’s Stade Velodrome, Arsenal took a big step towards qualification for the knockout phases and did so by keeping a European clean sheet for the first time since the days of George Graham, or something like that. With two home games to come in our relatively safe european home, we have to be looking to win the group now.
Ahead of last night’s match, Arsene Wenger had set his team of 4 points from the Marseille double header. The thinking, clearly, being a point away from home and a win at home would put us in with a very chance of progressing. Well, Aaron Ramsey’s last minute goal in a game that had 0-0 written all over it after about twenty minutes was a very cheeky bonus. And, at the home of a club who once caused Arsene Wenger immense personal aggravation, it must have been doubly, triply, sweet to all three of his substitutes combine for the winning goal. Even if Gervinho’s contribution would undeniably fall into the “inadvertent” category.
I don’t really care about how bad Marseille were, particularly for a home side, although they were staggeringly negative, I thought. You can only beat what’s put in front of you and we did that. Marseille, let’s not forget, were the group leaders and Ramsey’s goal the first goal they’ve conceded in this year’s competition. But if they’ve played all their games with nine men behind the ball, as they pretty much did last night, it’s not that surprising.
I mentioned George Graham above and there was much in our play last night that reminded of those mind numbingly tedious European nights he once presided over. A almost total poverty in attack- for Ian Wright, read Robin van Persie islolated and bereft of any hint of quality service. Telling that Robin’s best chance in the first half came after an Arsenal corner, which should have led to an Arsenal penalty; his header was cleared from the line by Diawara.
At the other end, Mertesacker and Koscielny were doing a passable impersonation of Bould and Adams and restricted the home side to scraps. A penalty against Jenkinson for handball would have been harsh in my opinion, although probably correct by the letter of the law. Loic Remy came closest to breaking the deadlock for Marseille, tricking his way past Mertesacker and Jenkinson, only for the youngster to make a superb recovery and deflect his shot just past the far post.
I noticed something in the first half guys. I noticed that Jenkinson doesn’t like the idea of passing to Theo Walcott- let’s face it, he’s probably seen enough of him to know it’s not a great idea. I’m kinda okay with that, but if he’s going to run down the line and fire in crosses himself, it would be a good idea to wait for the cavalry to arrive. But I can equally apply that to Mr Walcott.
Jenkinson got a bit bashed up in the first half and after a penalty box scramble in the second half which Alex Song initially did amazingly well to break up, before inexplicably trying to dribble his way out, Jenkinson made way for Djourou. Which, with Blackburn fresh in our minds, was quite a scary thought. As Arsenal focussed on keeping the ball, Arteta particularly effective, and Marseille concentrated on defending in numbers (helped by some sloppy Arssing), it seemed both teams had settled for a mutually beneficial 0-0. Walcott had a great chance as he burst down the right, capitalising on some sloppy defending, but was denied at the near post by Mandanda and that was about all he did.He was replaced by Gervinho and minutes later the ineffective Arshavin made way for Ramsey.
As the minutes ticked away, with Arsenal so comfortable at the back, I’m sure the excellent Koscielny, Mertesacker and Szczesny could have got the cigars out, van Persie finally got a decent pass but again saw Mandanda unbeatable on his near post. Just as the 0-0 seemed certain, Djourou- who had actually performed very well at right back despite yet another ludicrous booking for a great tackle- got down the right and fired his cross in. Gervinho jumped to control on the edhge of the box, but succeeded only in flicking it on for Aaron Ramsey. The Welshman took a touch, paused to fix his hair and then smashed the ball in off the near post before setting off on a lengthy celebratory run.
I know it was far from vintage Arsenal, but I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that it was great to see another side to Arsenal last night, a calm, composed and mature Arsenal. Particularly with 3 of our preferred back 4 missing. Onwards and upwards!
And thanks to @rachid253 for today’s blog title.