Ramsey storms the Marseilles fortress

Marseilles 0 Arsenal 1

Click to follow
The Independent Football

This was, admitted Arsène Wenger, "a game which was blocked tactically." He added: "I can understand the fans might be disappointed by the game, but this is the way football happens."

Any neutrals may indeed have been thoroughly bored by this match, enough to have turned over, if they had the option, to watch Chelsea's goal-laden saunter past Genk. If they did so they would, however, have missed the one moment of quality in this stadium where, 13 summers ago Paul Scholes announced himself in a World Cup for England.

This time it was a young Welshman who provided a touch of class, Aaron Ramsey. His last-gasp goal earned Arsenal an unlikely victory on the Côte d'Azur and put them into a commanding position in Group F of the Champions League .It was the first goal Marseilles had conceded at home in nine hours of the elite competition, a surprising fact given the poverty of their own performance. Indeed, both teams had looked what they are, struggling domestically for form and confidence.

Robin van Persie had a header cleared off the line in the first half, and drew a good save from Steve Mandanda in the last minute of normal time, but otherwise Arsenal threatened no more than their hosts – who barely troubled Wojciech Szczesny.

The one bit of bad news for Wenger was yet another injury, this time to Carl Jenkinson's knee. With his first-choice right-back, Bacary Sagna, already out for some time,he will hope Jenkinson's injury is not as serious as it first appeared.

This is the sort of venue the young Englishman would not even have dared dream of playing at when he was turning out for Eastbourne Borough last year. The Stade Vélodrome is one of Europe's most evocative stadiums and there was a decent atmosphere despite a renovation programme for Euro 2016 which meant one side was empty bar around 1,500 Arsenal fans. They saw a team which had two changes, one enforced, from the XI which managed a nervy 2-1 win over Sunderland at the weekend. Andre Santos came in for the injured Kieran Gibbs and Andrei Arshavin, who impressed off the bench on Sunday, kept his place at the expense of Gervinho.

Both men were to have poor games with Mathieu Valbuena enjoying the freedom they gave him on Arsenal's left flank. Most prominent in the early stages though was Löic Rémy. Alex Song was cautioned after three minutes for bringing him down and the France international almost prompted a mix-up between Szczesny and Laurent Koscielny. Then came Wenger's first stroke of luck as the Slovenian referee took a lenient view of a handball in the box by Jenkinson – Andre Ayew was booked for his protests. A third name in the book was Santos for checking Valbuena.

It was midway through the half before Arsenal finally exerted some sustained pressure on their hosts with a burst of corners. From one Van Persie sent a header goalwards only for Souleymane Diawara – who appeared to handball earlier in the mêlée – to clear off the line.

Diawara is indeed the inept centre-half of Charlton's 2006-07 relegation but since returning to France the Senegal international has shown sufficient form to suggest Iain Dowie's £3.7m valuation of him was not so far wide of the mark. Indeed, Marseilles paid rather more to sign him from Bordeaux.

Marseilles pressed again but Rémy was denied first by Jenkinson – after skipping past Per Mertesacker rather too easily – then by Koscielny. With Lucho Gonzalez shooting wide when well-placed, Arsenal not only reached the interval without breach but were largely untroubled from then on, Marseilles seeming to have burned themselves out. The one time they threatened, when Valbuena brought down a cross on the edge of the six-yard box, Song scrapped hard to prevent Ayew managing a shot and Arsenal cleared the danger.

Not that the visitors threatened much themselves. Errors remained as likely a source of goals as creative work and Theo Walcott came close to profiting when Alou Diarra allowed the ball to run away from him but, with Diawara coming across to cover Walcott was unable to beat Mandanda.

Both sides made substitutions in an attempt to engineer a breakthrough, Wenger introducing Gervinho, then Ramsey, for Walcott and Arshavin, neither of whom had been a threat. Gervinho perked up Arsenal's attack and in the last minute slipped in Van Persie for a shot which Mandanda did well to keep out at the near post. Nevertheless, it was more indicative of the match when Tomas Rosicky and Van Persie messed up the short corner routine which followed, Rosicky hitting his return pass out of play.

That looked to be a fitting final act, then Djourou, deep and wide on the right, sent over a cross which eluded all save Gervinho who got a slight touch. The ball ran to Ramsey, coming in late and unmarked. He steadied himself and tucked his shot away superbly. The Arsenal fans, who were by then receiving a thorough soaking from the heavens, were giddy with joy. Tactically blocked? Who cares? Not they.

The result means Arsenal remain unbeaten in nine away European matches on French soil. That statistic ignores, however, defeats to Spanish opposition in the finals of the European Cup-Winners' Cup, and the Champions League, respectively Real Zaragoza in 1995 and Barcelona in 2006. Arsenal, at present, show no sign of reaching another final, but at this stage results are what matters, in particular qualifying top of the group, and they have made excellent progress on that front.

Dortmund face Greek tragedy

Borussia Dortmund's return to the Champions League after a gap of nine years is turning sour as the German champions slumped to their second successive defeat, this time going down 3-1 at Olympiakos. Jose Holebas gave the Greek side the lead only for Borussia's Robert Lewandowski to equalise. However, Algerian striker Rafik Djebbour made it 2-1 five minutes before half-time and Francois Modesto wrapped things up with 11 minutes to go.

Comments