Thursday, 19 September 2013

Marseille 1 Arsenal 2: match report -

Allied to their form away from the Emirates, Arsenal also have the best Premier League record of any club in 2013. The all-round improvement is epitomised by Aaron Ramsey, whose latest goal was his sixth so far this season. He took more than two years previously to amass so many goals.

With Özil again afforded the freedom to roam in the space behind Olivier Giroud, Arsenal started last night with the same team that had beaten Sunderland 3-1 on Saturday, meaning that Jack Wilshere was shunted from his usual central position to the left of Wenger's preferred 4-2-3-1 formation.

The summer arrival of Mathieu Flamini has also affected Wilshere, with Wenger continuing to prefer the added defensive shield that he provides alongside Ramsey.

Wenger had spoken before last night's match of his concern at the size of his squad with eight senior players currently injured and a glance down at his bench would have provided little reassurance. Three of Arsenal's six substitutes — Ryo Miyaichi, Chuba Akpom and Isaac Hayden — had a combined one minute of Premier League experience this season.

Özil and Wilshere were soon interchanging to pull Marseille's defence out of position while Theo Walcott's running down the right was a predictable problem to left-back Jeremy Morel. Walcott might even have won a penalty in the eighth minute when he seemed to get behind Morel only to be pulled back as he lifted his shot over.

Marseille had progressed through a similarly difficult Champions League group with Arsenal two years ago and were initially content to concede possession, absorb pressure and strike on the counterattack.

Arsenal's left flank was most obviously vulnerable, with Wilshere's instinct to cut inside sometimes leaving Kieran Gibbs outnumbered by Dimitri Payet and Rod Fanni. Payet exploited that space when he delivered a dangerous low cross that was brilliantly cleared from inside the goalmouth by Per Mertesacker.

Marseille maintained their momentum immediately after haf-time, with Payet crossing for Fanni, whose volley flashed narrowly wide of Wojciech Szczesny's right-hand post. It had been a quiet game from Özil but his quality suddenly shone through during two second-half passages of play.

After a slick one-two with Ramsey, he narrowly failed to dissect Marseille's defence with the outside of his boot. Seconds later, and an exquisite Özil back-heel allowed Gibbs to test Marseille goalkeeper Steve Mandanda.

Wilshere then missed a chance to put Arsenal into the lead when he volleyed straight at Mandanda after Bacary Sagna had eliminated all four of Marseille's defenders with a precise cross.

Wenger later accused his team of being "timid" early in the match but they ruthlessly sensed that Marseille were becoming ragged defensively and Elie Baup's team finally wilted in the 65th minute. Another cross from the excellent Gibbs should really have been dealt with comfortably by Morel but he misjudged the flight of the ball and allowed it to bounce over his head.

Walcott was lurking and clinically smashed his finish past Mandanda. The goal seemed to suck all hope out of Marseille and, after a prolonged period of possession, Ramsey underlined his outstanding form to shoot beyond Mandanda.

Ramsey's good work was then partially undone in added time when he was controversially adjudged to have tripped André Ayew, whose brother Jordan scored Marseille's consolation from the penalty spot.

Ramsey on a roll

Aaron Ramsey goals used to be so rare that Arsenal supporters could remember which celebrity died on the same day - Osama bin Laden, Steve Jobs, Colonel Gadaffi and Whitney Houston among that unlucky band.

His strike against Marseille means the Welsh midfielder has now scored six times in his last six Arsenal matches - before that it had to taken the 22-year-old 105 games to accumulate the half-dozen.

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