View From The North Bank: Marseille 0 Arsenal 1
As the clock ticked down in Marseille, it would have been understandable had we been satisfied with the point. A relatively uneventful game looked like expiring with both sides sharing the spoils until Aaron Ramsey calmly slotted home after finding himself in acres of space. There are few things more satisfying than a late winner, yet for Arsenal this carried extra significance. This late winner capped the sort of mature display we’ve craved for so long.
Our shaky start is no secret yet it feels like a corner is finally being turned. Five wins in six tells part of the story, but the real detail is in the performance. It may not have been filled with moments of breathtaking Football but it was resolute and hard-fought.
Despite Arsene Wenger’s repeated defence of this side’s mental strengths the evidence on the field has often suggested otherwise. Put this game alongside the rearguard action in Dortmund and the late win over Sunderland and there is cause for cautious optimism; whisper it – Arsenal can grind out a result.
In truth the game was relatively drab for large periods as we opted for a cautious approach, in keeping with Wenger’s assumption that a point would be a sufficient platform for a win at home in two weeks time. We were evidently careful not to over commit going forward which occasionally left Van Persie isolated. Walcott and Arshavin could’ve done more to support the lone striker; the former also wasting a good breakaway by failing to beat the first man with his centre.
Throughout the team passing was a bit loose. Pass completion of 84% is by no means poor but it was often the casual nature of our distribution that invited trouble and made it hard to create clear opportunities going forward.
As the game wore on, the defensive unit in particular seemed to grow. Koscielny had a solid game and was arguably Man of The Match, run close by Mertesacker, whilst Arteta swept in front of him and Song rolled up his sleeves, making a handful of important challenges as he so often does. Marseille don’t look a great side but they still carried a decent threat in Remy, Valbuena and Lucho Gonzalez. It’s heartening to think that we limited them to very few real chances.
Whilst a point was the objective there was a growing feeling that the home side were there for the taking. Walcott squirmed through and fired at the keeper before Van Persie latched on to Gervinho’s through ball and forced a good save from Mandanda.
Perhaps Wenger sensed this and introduced the energy of Ramsey to replace the woeful Arshavin. As the opponents tired it was Rambo’s extra drive that turned the screw. The goal was the primary achievement but in his short outing he chased all over the pitch and provided our midfield with an extra thrust that had begun to fade.
Deep in injury time the Wales captain took a gamble and joined the attack. A hopeful cross-field ball from Djourou was helped on by Gervinho and calmly finished by Ramsey. A lot of pressure has been heaped on this young man’s head given the high profile early season absences, yet he’s stuck to his job admirably. He’s still learning his game but has a desire to contribute that sets him apart.
The winner was also pleasing for the sense of togetherness it seemed to show in the team. Wenger talked of the summer being behind us and a united club. When Ramsey ran back towards the home fans, chased by his teammates and cheered on by Le Boss, there was finally some credence to the idea that this unit is eager to stick together and improve.
As I’ve been keen to point out after every apparent watershed victory, it means nothing if we don’t continue this upward trajectory. There are important games to come and three points on Sunday followed by progression in the Carling Cup and a solid display at Stamford Bridge are all imperative.
There should be no huge celebration after this victory but it can be used to help breed belief. When we stick together we can put in workmanlike displays. We may not have shown the exhilarating style that has equally entertained and infuriated over the past five or six years but we did show a side of the game that we’ll need if we’re to continue our progression both at home and on the continent.
Keep The Faith.