Sometimes in football, as in life, you have to work for what you get and last night we huffed and puffed in the first half but got there in the end through not losing our heads when the going was tough.
From the first whistle we looked laboured and uncomfortable with the shape we set up in. Perhaps in accommodating Mesut Ozil we had upset the balance of our midfield because strong defending and sharp, creative midfield play seems like where we are at at the moment, since we only really have a solitary central striker. If we are going to function and win it will be in part because we make lots of chances by opening teams up with brisk and accurate passing to put running midfielders in behind opponent’s defenders.
Marseille looked superficially good but I think it was a bit of an illusion created largely through our own sloppiness. Theo once again left Sagna exposed far too often and the slightly weird Valbuena needed little invitation to occupy the space between them and cause us a few problems with some creative play and speculative shooting. I thought that, in the first half, we allowed them far too much time and room to pick balls into our box, but they created few real chances. Chesney’s handling was assured and we looked reasonably solid if a little flakey. Against better teams, like our next CL opponents, we are going to need to be a whole lot better
As the first half trickled by I was hoping we would get to half- time unscathed so Wenger could give the midfield the masterful tactical tweak it so obviously needed and get the players to speed up their game so we could stretch their back four more than we had managed in the first half when our build-up was pedestrian – to say the least. When you aren’t playing well, you need to dig in and that’s what this team has learned. It has it’s own perverse beauty.
Fortunately the 0-0 score line gave us a base from which to build and as the second half got underway Giroud’s remarkable quiff, no doubt after a determined half-time teasing, stood to attention and marked a change in our intent. Walcott, who had been having another bummer, actually began to look mildly interested and we got the ball wide quicker and drove at their defence through their midfield with more purpose than had looked likely earlier. Gibbs was playing some great stuff and even though Ramsey’s passing was sometimes less accurate than of late, his energy and willingness to run and work for the team was fantastic and even inspirational to watch. Ozil is clearly a long way from match fit but always gives the impression that something could happen when he gets the ball.
Mind you, Marseille weren’t taking any prisoners and once again the ref was consistently inconsistent and you never knew when he was going to blow for a foul. Nothing new there then.
As we started to compete Marseille looked slightly shocked that they weren’t going to have it as easy in this half and they dropped physically. Jack constantly ran both at and through them and often carried the ball too far but his desire couldn’t be questioned. When he and Ozil gel it could be very interesting.
Eventually Gibbs was freed down the left by a simple but perfect short ball from Jack. He hammered it across the front of their goal and for some inexplicable reason the Marseille player standing directly in line to clear it bowed his head to try and plant his nut on a ball it would have been easier to let hit him in the chest and as a consequence it lobbed high up in the air behind him. For what seemed like an eternity Theo and the entire Arsenal community worldwide watched and wondered as gravity did its thing and then he absolutely creamed it into the back of the net for a great goal and what we all hope will be the start of his season. It was just about the first thing of any meaning he had done in the match but it would have been just as easy to miss.
1-0 to the Arsenal.
The Marseille players couldn’t believe it and neither could most Arsenal supporters. But there it was. The game plodded on and we began to look a lot better. They dropped physically and we found space where before it had looked difficult. Ches was still handling the ball well apart from once, when both him and Per cocked up rather comically, but the excellent Gibbs was on hand with an astute piece of awareness to clear the ball from under the crossbar. The defence tucked in and suddenly, despite a few heart-in-mouth moments, looked more like a unit. Then, all of a sudden, Ramsey ran at them and burst through some half-hearted tackles and struck a shot that took a small but perhaps significant deflection. The net bulged and it was 2-0 to the Arsenal.
The Gods, clad in yellow away shirts, looked down and smiled.
Wenger, for a reason known only to himself, took off the industrious Flamini and bought on, not Vermaelen but Ryo. Interesting I thought and certainly more interesting than most of the Marseille players looked. They had turned it in by that time, but got very lucky when Ramsey, after a loose touch, had to stretch for a ball in our area. Running through was yet another Ashley Young clone who dragged his trailing leg against the limb with which Ramsey had managed to prod the ball away and went arse over tit. The ref, wearing the look of a righteous but gullible man, bought it hook, line and sinker. Penalty? Not really!
It just showed how critical our second goal was as the score became 2-1 to the Arsenal.
Three invaluable points then from an up and down performance that was founded on patience and Wenger’s experience in the CL as much as anything.
As I said, sometimes you have to work for what you get.
That makes it ten away wins on the trot from when we beat Bayern Munich at their place last season and that is a fantastic achievement that deserves our praise and respect. Well done Arsene and the boys – and keep it up.
Written by Adam