A vaguely disappointing nil nil failed to quell the feel good factor derived from the Arsenal’s heroic high octane defeat of the Siberian oligarchs team last Saturday.
As the match drew to a close I recalled the target of four points from the two games against the French champions set by Wenger and was able to assess the performance and result in that context. Arriving at Arsenal tube station I was, as usual, “treated” to some singing from the Bouches-du-Rhône region, initially unintelligible but as the away supporters followed me up to the ticket barriers I could eventually pick up:
Mar-seille allez, Mar-seille allez, allez, allez, chante!
To the tune of “Oh my darling clementine” as sung by Huckleberry Hound a lot clearer than last night’s version.
The atmosphere for a mid-week evening kick off at Ashburton Grove is altered by that claustrophobic feel that the darkness that descends in London in November gives to the journey to your turnstile from the stadium environs.
The team line ups as announced before kick-off revealed our Captain was being benched to give the Park a start and that there was a welcome return to the starting line-up for the Verminator.
My seat was behind the Clock End goal, lower tier, so I had the away support a few blocks to my right. Inside the stadium they were fairly vocal as most away crowds tended to be on European nights — louder than Porto’s, quieter than Dinamo Zagreb’s, from memory. To their credit the complete 4 block allocation was full and animated.
The early exchanges showed that Marseilles had pace all over the pitch if not skill, with the full backs making light work of Gervinho and Theo’s attempts to pull apart their back line.
Chesney showed himself to be a goalie of supreme confidence when he took on a Marseilles forward; even from the other end of the pitch I could see him dummying and dribbling around him and while there was much mirth in the crowd in reaction to his skill and confidence I would have preferred him not to be put (or put himself) in those situations and that he just takes the safety first option – a hefty hoof up field for example.
Defence wise the Verminator slotted straight back into the team as if he’d never been away and Mertesacker showed the calm authority we’ve come to expect but without the missed headers that he needs to eliminate from the game.
“Jenks” has quickly become a fans favourite with his work rate and never ending drive to push on whether defending or getting forward, conversely Santos was seen differently, a capable and experienced defender who is probably not 100% match fit.
Marseilles pushed forward for the first half hour and for an away side that was quite brave however their finishing was as bad as ours turned out to be.
There were few alarms and no one especially felt we would concede at any moment – a feeling we definitely had in matches during the closing stages of last season. Encouraged by their support striking up the Huckleberry Hound song, Marseilles continued to press and a few shots on Chesney’s goal resulted which were on target, and many more off target.
As time went on however the Arsenal then gained more possession which resulted in whistling from the away support.
It’s clearly a continental thing to whistle when the opposition has the ball, in the UK it tends to be done to register displeasure at a bad refereeing decision or the opposition not kicking the ball out if one of your players is injured. If that happens in a continental game what would they do then as an alternative to whistling? If they just whistle more, how could you tell what the crowd was irate about if it’s just more of the same?
Anyway gripe/observation over.
Despite the extra possession Arsenal had as the first half drew to a close it seemed that Park was lacking that “something” as things just failed to happen for him; maybe he needed a bit of confidence that would result from a few more of his one twos working or having some decent shots on goal?
We clearly need a stand in for Robin but at the moment Park is not the answer, I sincerely hope he will be part of the answer at least and the sooner the better.
Gervinho seemed to be having one of those days also where things didn’t quite come off and when they did the resulting shot was wide or well saved with Aaron seeming a touch jaded also.
The extra possession Arsenal gained as the game went on was as a result of the Song-Arteta axis establishing a metronomic understanding in the centre of the midfield.
One gets the sense that Mikel is loving being on the European Cup stage, a chance a player of his quality and experience should really have had earlier in his career. One of our more palpable chances was an Arteta free kick, which on another day would have drifted in rather than swerved away from the top left corner of the goal.
Half time came and with it the news that the Russian’s from the bus stop in Fulham were one nil up against the mighty Genk.
No substitutions from either side at half time but as time went on and the Marseilles defence held firm it seemed it was only a matter of time before changes would have to be made.
Robin and Arshavin had been warming up as soon as the second half had kicked off, Robin being the benefactor of a standing ovation from the Clock end.
The pattern of the second half followed the latter half of the first in that Arsenal pressure was repelled or the final ball was poor or the finishing was not quite there.
The referee had a fairly good game and wasn’t buying the feigning injury Marseilles started to indulge in, with Mathieu Valbuena seeming like a refugee from a dwarf throwing/diving competition; the sort I imagine being held in deepest Tennessee by some good old boys. Perhaps the midget Mathieu was giving the crowd a preview of his bid to be part of the French 2012 Olympic diving squad? However the referee did seem a bit too keen to book that well known midfield destroyer Rosicky for his first challenge, having come on as the second sub with Robin on shortly before.
Then an exchange of dwarfs – Valbuena off, Arshavin on to try and provide a creative spark and feed Robin for the goal that would seal a Round of 16 qualifying victory.
The game seemed to peter out with a few more attacks by Arsenal at the North bank end and try as Arshavin did to make something happen by the last third of the game Marseilles had decided to settle for the draw and their initial attacking intent evaporated.
Overall, not a disastrous result, just as long as a victory against West Brom on Saturday can be won before another wretched interlull/nationalism break before hostilities resume a fortnight later.
Just to cheer up the Gooners emptying Ashburton Grove news filtered through that the European footballing powerhouse of Genk finished their game level with Chelsea to extend the team “led” by John Terry’s winless run to 3 games.