One-Nil to the Arsenal. Thank you very much.
I would have been happy with a draw so a win, and that too in such a manner with a clean sheet to boot, has put me over the moon – which is a lovely place, you should join me. Ah! I see many are already here and some others on their way. Wonderful.
I need a few deep breaths before writing this so you aren’t blinded by all the moonshine. Ok, enough with the euphoria-induced stupid jokes, let’s get to the match.
I thought this was a very exciting tactical battle and Arsene won it with his experience.
For large parts of this game many Gooners might have been frustrated and nervy. Marseille were looking a lot more threatening while Arsenal weren’t really creating quality chances that one expects/demands.
Deschamps deserves credit for pushing his players up the pitch to press Arsenal and prevent the Gunners from bringing the ball out with ease. The approach disrupted Wenger’s side and possession was squandered time and again. When the Gunners did string a few passes together – which was a hard task mind – it usually ended in a unsuccessful cross from wide on the right. Jenkinson or Walcott the player looking clueless with only Van Persie a target against four or five defenders. I don’t blame the wide players despite the statistic reading 0 successful out of 28 attempted crosses at one point.
The problem here was that Arsenal kept the midfield deeper to provide better cover to the defence. This meant Marseille couldn’t really test Szczesny despite having the ball in dangerous areas. Wenger mentioned Marseille were lethal on the break and this would have been a tactic to counter that.
On the flip side, Arsenal couldn’t get enough bodies forward to support Van Persie. It’s an issue of finding the right balance and Wenger hasn’t achieved that on a consistent basis. When that’s the case, I’d take a strong defensive performance over a flamboyant but leaky effort.
I believe Arsenal need better structure/shape in such games but for now hard work and concentration will have to suffice.
Ultimately, the tactics of both sides meant there weren’t many highlights-worthy moments in the first half. There was a penalty shout in each box. Marseille might be aggrieved that Santos wasn’t shown a second yellow. But by and large I don’t have any complaints against the ref even though the decisions weren’t always to my liking.
The second half started where the first had finished. Marseille got the ball into the Arsenal box but the Gunners always had bodies to protect the goal. It was ugly at times, but effective. On the other side the Gunners only managed a couple of half chances.
In both cases, Walcott and Van Persie got chances from a difficult angle on the right and Mandanda did well to save.
I thought Wenger also won the battle with the right substitutions which were afforded to him by a stronger bench.
Djourou came on for Jenkinson due to an injury but the introductions of Gervinho and Ramsey gave Arsenal greater impetus whereas Gignac and Amalfitano couldn’t make much of an impact for Marseille.
In the final 15-20 minutes Arsenal looked like the team with the momentum and desire as the hosts tired and their pressing waned. Even then the Gunners were cautious not to leave the back door open which prevented a couple of perilous moments from turning into disasters. Song and Koscielny deserve special mention for their work at the back but others did a good job as well.
The goal, I must confess, came out of nowhere. It was however, a result of Arsenal’s greater desire and experience as Marseille lost their concentration and left the defenders without cover at a crucial juncture. It’s the kind of mistake Wenger’s sides have made in the past.
Djourou found himself in space halfway inside the opposition half on the right side after winning a 50-50. His cross was good but clearly directed towards the central players Gervinho and Van Persie. The ball shaved the Ivorian’s skin and fell kindly to Ramsey who’d sneaked into the box from a wide position on the left. The Welshman’s control, composure, and finished underlined his quality.
I wouldn’t say this was a great display from Arsenal. But it was a game which showed Wenger does make subtle tactical adjustments. It also showed the value of his experience and the overall fighting spirit of the squad.
Having said that, I will make my way back down to earth. Two wins on the bounce is just a start and we cannot afford to get carried away.
Szczesny: Wasn’t really tested despite a number of balls arriving in the box. Was well placed and contributed towards soaking pressure by receiving passes and spreading the ball.
Jenkinson: Energetic performance from a willing worker. Could have done better with some crosses but looking up, he must have been disappointed with the lack of targets. Did win a number of corners though. Tenacious in defence.
Mertesacker: Was beaten by the skill of an opponent on more than a couple of occasions but mainly in a wide position just outside the box. Was strong and decisive in the central areas in front of goal.
Koscielny: Excelled at reading the game. Made a number of vital interceptions/clearances.
Santos: Some of his touches were classy but he also had a languid style which made him look tired and led to a few errors. Will have to buckle down and play with focus if he has to perform every three days.
I thought the back five were impressive. Marseille rarely got a clear look at goal despite having quality players on the ball and good runners. The defensive line was largely solid and they made up for mistakes by being tenacious. For instance, when Remy got in behind from a long chip and beat Mertesacker, Jenkinson got back to cover. Even the right back was beaten but still got back to put a foot in to deflect the shot away from goal. The players worked for each other and protected the goal. It wasn’t the performance of a dominant team but one of a determined side.
Song: Picked up a booking as early as the 4th minute after a loose touch ceded possession in a tricky area. Maintained his composure after that and produced quality tackles in and around the box. Needs to do better with his passing and decision making in advanced areas.
Arteta: Tremendous work rate, good technique on the ball. Provided good cover on the left, especially when Arshavin stayed up.
Rosicky: Looked good on the ball but nowhere near the kind of dominance he showed in the previous game. Fair contribution at the back.
I thought the midfield struggled against the pressing in the first half and for parts of the second. But their primary responsibility seemed to be that of providing cover and that was executed well enough. Usually, when the opponents press the midfielders push up as we saw with Song and Arteta’s positioning against Sunderland. The conservative approach in this game wasn’t easy on the eye but justified and commendable.
Walcott: Will probably be vilified for his crossing but I thought he did well with the limited service for his runs and the lack of options in the box. Honest defensive shift as well.
RvP: Continues to plug away with his work rate – dropping deep, working the channels, rarely a still moment. Didn’t get enough support from the midfield so his effort was even more impressive.
Arshavin: The only truly disappointing performance on the night. Tried as well as he could but wasn’t able to get past his man on the right or the left. Didn’t do enough in defensive areas.
I thought the front three were isolated and out of sync. This must have been a different experience from the usual camping in the opponent half. I would still like to see better tactical utilization of Walcott’s pace when the opponents are pressing so high up. Playing another midfielder on the left might have liberated the Englishman more often.
Subs: All three were involved in the goal! Djourou created the chance by winning the challenge and putting in a good cross, Gervinho got a crucial touch even if unintentionally, Ramsey produced the decisive finish. In general, Djourou looked more confident than in some of the earlier games and was extremely unlucky to get booked for a very good tackle. Gervinho was lively and troubled the defenders with his direct style. Ramsey put in a good shift.
Wenger: Put a strong team out. The repercussions of that will be known in the coming weeks but it should at least produce a confidence boost on the back of table-topping result. Sent his team out with a conservative approach and with a focus on avoiding mistakes. Used the experience, substitutions, and better fitness effectively.