Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Flamini, Ramsey, Wilshere, Ozil, Walcott, Giroud
Subs: Fabianski (GK), Vermaelen, Monreal, Jenkinson, Hayden, Akpom, Miyaichi
Second half goals from Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey ensured that Arsenal started their Champions League group with a bang against Marseille and helped notch up the Gunners tenth consecutive win on the road. A late penalty by Jordan Ayew reduced the deficit, but the 2-1 win was nothing less than the men from North London deserved after another polished, if not emphatic, performance.
Arsene Wenger’s side started well, dominating the early midfield exchanges with neat possession and good movement. Theo Walcott picked up where he left off against Sunderland, getting himself into good positions only for his finishing to let him down. On three minutes his header from eight yards out was cleared before reaching the line following a cut-back by Ozil, then he latched onto a long ball by Ramsey but couldn’t get enough power on the shot to trouble Marseille’s keeper Mandanda. As it turned out they were arguably our best chances of the opening 45 minutes.
Marseille’s famous Stade Velodrome, which currently resembles a building site due to the construction of a roof, housed an expectedly noisy home crowd (or was it one bloke with a loudspeaker?) and the home side seemed to take confidence from the fervent support on the terraces. Only a brilliantly timed challenge by Aaron Ramsey prevented Dmitri Payet unleashing a shot from the edge of the box before Andre Ayew rose high to head just wide as the game reached the 20-minute mark.
For the most part the first half was a scrappy affair, both sides had decent possession but without ever really threatening to score. Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere all saw plenty of the ball but the French side marshalled their ranks well on the edge of their box.
Seven minutes before half-time Mertesacker, who along with Koscielny had survived a blow to the face, was on hand to clear a dangerous ball across the six-yard box by Payet. From the second of two resulting corners there was another shot across the bow when Gignac rose at the near post to head over. At half-time 0-0 seemed about right, the game very much resembling the fixture played out by the two sides two-years previously.
The game was much more end-to-end in the second half. A minute after the break Rod Fanni came very close to breaking the deadlock, the right-back controlling a cross on his thigh before flashing a volley just wide of Szczesny’s right-hand post.
Nice play on the break between Ramsey and Ozil nearly released Walcott and it was a fantastic back-heel by the German that set up Kieran Gibbs on 53 minutes although the left-back could only strike his shot straight at the keeper from close range. In the resulting break Ramsey picked up a yellow.
Payet tested Szcszesny at his near post with a low drive. Walcott again couldn’t get the ball out of his feet from another Ozil pass. Ramsey dispossessed Ayew with a fine challenge and then sprung the ball forward before Wilshere forced a save on the volley from a deep Sagna cross. On the hour mark Mertesacker was dug out of a massive hole by Gibbs who headed the ball off the line after the BFG had swiped a clearance backwards over Szczesny. Like we said, it was end-to-end!
Finally after a breathless twenty minutes, the deadlock was broken. Walcott, whose touch had been awful all night, finally found his shooting boots to despatch a text book volley from six-yards out after Marseille’s Morel misjudged a Gibbs cross. It was the England man’s first goal of the season and his puffed-out-cheek celebration suggested his lack of goals had been playing on his mind. (1-0)
The goalscorer was subbed with 13 minutes remaining in favour of Nacho Monreal as Arsene Wenger looked to sure up the left-side of defence following two fizzing efforts by Valbuena. Marseille’s response was to send on hot prospect Florian Thauvin.
With seven minutes remaining Aaron Ramsey made sure of the points. The Welsh international, who’d scored a last-gasp winner on the same ground two-years ago, burst through the Marseille defence before lashing home a low drive which whipped past Mandanda with the aid of a slight deflection. It was nothing less than the 22-year-old deserved following another swashbuckling performance in the middle of the park. (2-0)
Ramsey took some of the shine off his performance by conceding a late penalty (albeit a harsh one), but despite sub Jordan Ayew slamming it home, it was too little too late for the home side. (2-1)
Overall it was a mature performance from the Gunners, a result born out of patience and hard graft rather than the style and swagger of the qualifying matches against Fenerbahce. Given the tough fixtures ahead it’s a very promising start and extends the club’s run of six consecutive wins. You couldn’t really ask for any more since the opening day defeat to Villa.