Thursday, 19 September 2013

Arsenal Win 2-1 Away To Marseille

Arsenal went into their first Champions League group game of the season away to Marseille last night knowing they needed to get something from the game. They have been drawn in a very tough group and the last thing they wanted was to start off with a defeat to the weakest looking team in the group. Arsene Wenger said before the game that he thought the team needed 10 points to qualify for the last 16 and three points away to Marseille would have been a great start.

With very few options available to him the boss picked the expected team as Per Mertesacker returned from illness and both Olivier Giroud and Mesut Ozil were passed fit to play. It meant Mertesacker came in to the centre of the defence and Bacary Sagna moved to right back with Carl Jenkinson dropping to the bench. Otherwise the team was the exact same as the one which won 3-1 at Sunderland on Saturday.

The first half wasn't exactly overly eventful with neither team really opening the other up and chances few and far between. Early on Theo Walcott looked like he might get some joy behind the Marseille left back, but his chances were limited as Marseille closed down the Arsenal midfield very quickly. Half time arrived with no goals and Arsenal needing to step up the pace if they wanted to win. 

Things were a little more open in the second half with both teams knowing three points were important to their chances in the group. Arsenal went close when Kieran Gibbs stabbed a back heel from Ozil goalwards but the keeper just managed to save it. At the other end Wojciech Szczesny made a few good saves as Marseille began to put some pressure on the Arsenal defence. 

The all important breakthrough for Arsenal came in the 64th minute and it was Walcott who scored it. Gibbs made a good run down the left and his cross was dealt with very badly by a defender who knocked the ball up into the air. It dropped nicely for Walcott who smashed it into the net in emphatic style to put Arsenal 1-0 up.

It was just what the team needed and the payers tried to slow the game down a little after that to take the sting out of Marseille. There was a chance from a header from Giroud and Szczesny continued to deal with anything Marseille could offer at the other end. The win was far from certain until Arsenal scored their second goal through Aaron Ramsey with only six minutes left.

Ramsey took the ball from a Gibbs pass 25 yards out and ran at the Marseille defence before lashing home from outside the box. The shot may have got a slight deflection to help it past the keeper but it was Ramsey's goal and his sixth one in the seven games so far this season. That's a very impressive return for a midfielder and it's already his best return for any season.

As the clock ticked down Arsenal brought Nacho Monreal and Ryo Myiachi and on for Walcott and Mathieu Flamini. There seemed little chance of Marseille scoring until a slightly clumsy challenge by Ramsey in the second of three added minutes handed Marseille a very soft penalty. Jordan Atew stepped up to slot home and Arsenal had a minute to see out to ensure they got the three points.

They did so with relative ease to register a club record of 10 away wins in a row and give themselves a real chance of making an impression in their group. Arsenal may not have been at their very best but they did enough to take the three points and it looked like there were no new injury worries ahead of Sunday's game at home to Stoke. The squad still needs some of the injured players to come back, but the payers available are showing exactly what they are capable of at the moment. 

There were moments when I was worried and the mix up between Mertesacker and Szczesny shortly before Arsenal's first goal certainly concerned me. Thankfully Gibbs was on hand to save them and I was very impressed with his performance on the night. He has made the left back slot his own and I can only hope he can stay free from injuries.

Ramsey was magnificent yet again and he must be the most in form player in the Premier League at the moment. Szczesny had a good game and did all that was asked of him with Giroud running his heart out for little return up front. For me the man of the match was Gibbs for his defending and the parts he played in both goals as well. 

The next two Champions League games are at home with Napoli coming to London next and then followed by Borussia Dortmund. Napoli won at home to Dortmund last night and a win over them would be a great result for Arsenal. If they can take four points from those two home games I think they will be well on the way to qualifying for the knockout stages.

It's six wins in a row in all competitions for Arsenal now and people are starting to sit up and take notice. There's still a lot of challenges ahead for the team but they have shown in those games that they are up for those challenges. I'm not predicting great things for the team, but with each game things are beginning to look better and better. How they cope with disappointments will be crucial for the team, but at the moment there are no disappointments. Let's hope that continues for another while at least.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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