A goal in each half, from a Jack Wilshere in smoking hot form, meant the Arsenal finished their work for the evening on top of their Champions League group although not quite guaranteed qualification into the next round.
Many of the Ashburton Grove faithful had barely settled into their seats (yours truly included) when the first home attack of the night caught the French team napping. I was seated in the lower tier behind the goal in the clock end and had a close up view of Jack opening his body and curling the quick fire first goal beyond the flailing keeper. Were Marseille Totn**b in disguise as they conceded so quick?
Any hopes of an upset in the away end seemed to die right there and while they carried on singing pretty much the whole way through, apparently aided by one Joseph Anthony Barton who was in their ranks, there was little sustained interest in how the game was going from the travelling support.
That said it appeared to me that Marseille were very much snapping into tackles, their midfielders seeming to have an elastic/bouncy running and tackling style, and harrying Arsenal in possession with the good guys fighting back to gain possession energetically.
While there was not much of note from the Marseille fans, an ill-advised decision to wear what looked like a team onesie from the Marseille coach caused me much mirth.
There was also much laughing at the referee’s wardrobe malfunction accompanied by wolf whistles when he his shirt was being seen to.
Selection wise Monreal for Gibbs while Arteta and Cazorla benched were the only changes with Jack and Flamini replacing them.
The presence of Flamini was the main reason that, in contrast to seasons gone by, a one goal lead was seen as very slender and we would concede a goal to a counter attack. I noticed that straight after an attack had failed or finished our returning ex-Marseille man would wave his arms to his team mates and shout for them to get back to their positions and not dwell on the missed chance.
THAT is the sort of protection he has been giving the back four; think how many times in the past after shot was saved by the opposition the goalie would bowl out the ball and the opposition forwards would run through the middle of the pitch unhindered. Not so much now thanks to Flamini and a more responsible defensive attitude from all midfielders.
This, to my eyes, accounts for the more relaxed attitude of the home crowd with just a goal lead to defend and hence the atmosphere being less fractious than in the past.
So when Özzy had his penalty saved, note not “missed his penalty”, their groans were minimal.
In fact, as the penalty incident was just in front of the block I was in, most of the crowd thought it was outside the area and we had the rare feeling of getting a penalty when none was deserved rather than the familiar rage when we are usually denied stonewall penalties.
Giroud had various chances to double the lead in the first half but the ball didn’t quite sit up for him yet the crowd would still sing his song after a failed shot. His tireless work in the offensive and defensive parts of the field accounts is probably why any of his fluffed shots aren’t followed by groans.
Half time arrived and the crowd happy although wistfully wishing perhaps a few more goals for the good guys would have been nice.
With their onesie clad managers words no doubt ringing in their ears the Marseille players seemed to play with more urgency straight after the restart however Arsenal’s slightly more combative tackling approach, I don’t recall ever seeing quite so many sliding tackles from us, gradually eroding away the Olympique de Marseille’s bright start to the second half.
I recall one instance where Tomáš Rosický sprinted across the pitch to dispossess a Marseille midfielder and it was just as well he got the ball as it could have been taken for a lunge otherwise.
With arsenal attacking the end far away from me there was not much action at the Clock end in the second half, except for a few smart saves from Chesney, who seems to be having consistently better games this season.
Another player who had a good game was Nacho man Monreal.
It’s easy pick out how well he provides width on our left flank for attacks but his goal line clearance to keep a clean sheet, after Chesney’s partial block from a Gignac shot spun up and over the Pole towards the goal, was excellent defensive work.
I could see his eyes follow the arc of the ball, rather like a cricketer in the outfield waiting to catch a lofted shot, as it fell towards the goal so he could volley it clear. All defensive units like a clean sheet and thanks he got from the BFG and Chesney was proof of that.
Özzy seemed to put aside his penalty mishap and pull the strings more in midfield leading to his part in Jack’s second goal. Yes, he is having a little dip in form but still his importance the team cannot be underestimated, every team shudders a but when they see him prowling the midfield, and opposition supporters fear him.
In my previous game, the Capitol One Cup game versus Chelsea, the obnoxious Chelsea fans stopped their vile chanting when Özzy came on as a sub and seemed to be caught by surprise.
Arsenal bringing on a superstar? No, they can’t do that. (That game may have been lost but the Chelsea crowd reaction was something I’d not seen before and worth pointing out).
As the game wound down Theo and Santi came on for Jack and Rosický while after Marseille had already brought on Valbuena and Thauvin.
The new defensive responsibility was further exemplified by Santi tussling to get the ball off Valbuena; the sight of those two sprinting for the loose ball looked like Sports day at Oompah Loompah school.
The game petered out and the crowd were happy at full time with the result with confusion over whether the Dortmund- Napoli result, when it was read out, was good or bad news.
However all agreed Mourinho’s Chavs defeat at the hands of Basel was hilarious.
Onwards and upwards, UTA !
By ChärybdÏß1966 (on Twitter @charybdis1966)