I suppose, if nothing else, last night’s Champions League match with Marseille merely told us what we already knew. What I mean by that is life, and indeed football, can’t always be John Terry falling flat on his face in the south west London mud when confronted with the sheer fucking majesty of Robin van Persie.
Hello, by the way. For those of you who don’t know me, I suppose I should introduce myself. From a family of Gooners, I was confronted with the, er, sheer fucking majesty of the Arsenal’s art deco East Stand in September 1991 and have been hooked ever since. I don’t think I need to go any further into my Gooner credentials than that but, using various platforms, I have been writing about the Gunners for the last seven years. If you haven’t caught me ’till now, well then, it’s your loss. I’m kidding, of course…
Anyway, enough with the pleasantries, we come here today to try and dissect the events of a difficult north London night. I should say, before we go any further, that I wasn’t too surprised at the way last night’s match panned out. Forgotten amongst the euphoria at our bunch of sleeping tigers belatedly roaring themselves into life over the last few weeks- culminating in that epic victory on Saturday- was the fact that Arsenal had to work pretty damn hard to get the three points in the Stade Velodrome a few weeks back. With all to play for in… for my sins, I don’t even know what group we’re in. With all to play for in whatever group we’re in, it was very unlikely that a good Marseille team was going to turn up and roll over for us to tickle their tummys. So it proved.
And whilst the media, and sections of our support, may point to Robin van Persie being rested last night, I do believe we created enough chances to win the match. The problem wasn’t that there was no van Persie, the problem was the hesitancy displayed by Gervinho, Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott. Not to mention a continuously, poor selection and weight of passing. Ok, so Park had a match to forget, but you can’t put the entire 90 minutes on his shoulders. Particularly when he only participated in 60 of those minutes. Hindsight is a terrific thing, but I did wonder last night if we wouldn’t have been better off dropping a seemingly resurgent Tomas Rosicky into central midfield for Ramsey. Or bringing in Andrei Arshavin for one of Theo or Gervinho. But you can understand Arsene’s reluctance to drop any of those players after Saturday. In van Persie’s case, his injury history necessitates caution and so, with two more matches to secure both qualification and leadership of the group, I think it’s entirely understandable that he started on the bench last night. As far as Arshavin goes, I think it’s obvious where his future lies now. That Arsene left him on the bench until the 75th minute, in a match that was crying out for some invention, seems to be a case of the final nails being hammered into the coffin of Arshavin’s Arsenal career.
Behind the front boys, of course, Thomas Vermaelen was restored to the starting line up, in place of the in form Laurent Koscielny. Again, for me, talk of Koscielny being dropped is wide of the mark. His excellence in recent weeks shows us that we now have three quality centre backs who can be rotated as when the manager feels necessary. Or when injuries and suspension dictate. I don’t know if Arsene has a preferred two in mind, Koscielny’s improvement has been rapid but how much of that is down to the presence of Per Mertesacker? In the face of a much livelier attack than Arsenal had to contend with in France, Mertesacker and Vermaelen were largely excellent last night.
It was intriguing to see Marseille, with the Ayew brothers and Loic Remy to the fore, avoid the fate that has so many teams on European nights at the Grove and not concede an early goal. Not merely because they managed it, but because of how they did it. They started very quickly and had a couple of efforts, notably a curler from Remy, gone a few inches either way, we might just have been looking at our first European defeat in the enormodome. As it was, we had to patiently work our way into the match and never really managed to create the kind of onslaught we have proved so adept at generating in past European nights. The best chances we had fell to Aaron Ramsey. Set up by Gervinho, he could only hit the keeper with the goal gaping (and Theo in yards of space to his right), whilst he might have done better from a peach of a Santos cross if only he had a bit more space. Walcott never came close to replicating his form from Saturday, presumably because he was up against a proper left back (eh, Ashley?). His pass inside to Park, who might have got a shot away were he not so undercooked, was fairly fired at him. Of course, Robin did get a chance, from the pass of the night (as far as Arsenal were concerned) by Rosicky. Put away to the left of the box, and with Mandanda advancing, he went through his box of tricks and came up with the “Bergkamp chip” option. Unfortunately for us, he didn’t get nearly enough elevation on it and the keeper was able to gather easily. That Rosicky pass was very much the exception last night in that it actually allowed the recipient to run into space, rather than having to check and gather.
And that was about all the excitement the second half held. After an end to end(ish) first half, as Saturday’s efforts took their toll, the second kind of petered out into the match that had unfolded in France. I think Marseille were more than happy with a point. For all the disappointment of not seeing the goalfest we have become accustomed to in our home Champions League matches, and the fact that I don’t think the Dortmund match is going to be anything like a formality, that we shouldn’t be that unhappy either.
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