Not quite the class of the goal that Dennis Bergkamp scored but it was a goal that was enough to send us top of the group with a point ahead of the beaten side, Marseille. Another one of those where the result was more important than the performance. 5 wins out of 6 games now and that is momentum building. Arsene Wenger persevered with almost the same side that defeated Sunderland at the weekend. The only changes were Andre Santos (injury to Kieran Gibbs) and Andrey Arshavin (in for Gervinho).
It was a game of chess, Didier Deschamps obviously did his homework and watched the Dortmund-Arsenal game. He sent his men to pressure us all over the pitch and we struggled to live with that tactic. We conceded possession almost as soon as we got it. It was a first half of few chances. The clearest either side got were both penalty decisions. Neither were given. First Carl Jenkinson handled a cross then one of Marseille’s player handled from a corner. Fair enough for me.
We could’ve gone into the break with a man down. Santos who has defended brilliantly and offered the occasional foray forward, should’ve been sent off for a second yellow. Already in the referee’s book, he stupidly brought a high ball down with his arm. Thankfully, the referee chose to give him another chance.
He was hanging on the thin rope and there’s still 45 minutes of game left to play. Mathieu Valbuena was giving Santos all sorts of problems in the first half and there’s a big chance that another yellow might be on the cards. But to his credit, he stuck to his task and reduce all the nonsense and basically kept Valbuena quiet for the rest of the match.
More often than not, we are accused of over-playing things. On the evidence of the first half, we were over-simplifying most things. We needed to be more patient on the ball and not just keep playing the ball over the top. If I can figure it out, Wenger certainly did, because we came out for the second half and controlled the match.
Marseille were reduced to passengers for the rest of the game. Perhaps the pressing in the first half took a lot of energy and they could not maintain the same discipline. Or perhaps we just up our game and kept better possession of the ball. While we didn’t necessarily look more threatening, we did create a few chances at goal.
The replacement of the wide players (Arshavin and Walcott) with Aaron Ramsey and Gervinho was what did the trick. Tomas Rosicky was shifted to wide left and thus reducing his contribution in the game. In some ways, it was not particularly nice for him, having been busy and did a lot of general good work in the middle.
Johan Djourou was another substitution, coming on for the injured Jenkinson. It was him who created the winning goal. Delivering a cross that was missed by Gervinho but found it’s was to Ramsey. A composed first touch before slamming the ball past Steve Mandanda. It was a lovely finish.
We’ve nicked one right at the end. I’ve lost count on the number of times the opposite happened to us. About time we get some luck on our side. A draw would have been a fairer reflection on how the game went. However, I’m not going to complain that we won it at the end. It was not as if Wojciech Szczesny had a lot of saves to be made.
Per Mertesacker, Jenkinson and Santos were solid in their defending but once again on an European stage, Laurent Koscielny stole everyone’s thunder. His reading of the game was first class. His interceptions were timely. On occasions such as this, it was easy to see why he’s highly regarded in the Arsenal camp.
Despite the renovations, you can see that Stade Velodrome is a special stadium. The stands seems to rise all the way to the heavens. On another day, we might have lost this one, but we didn’t. Mark of champions? Only time will tell.