Archive for October 19th, 2011

Last-minute magic in Marseille

761 comments October 19th, 2011

Aaron Ramsey netting the winner against Marseille

Arsenal 1 – 0 Marseille

Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

You know what, Chelsea?  You can keep your 5-0 romps.  Truly, there is no sweeter way to win a football match than with a solitary last-gasp goal.  More than ninety minutes of turgid entrenchment punctured by one sweet strike from substitute Aaron Ramsey.  Cue much air punching, back-slapping, and (in my house at least) spilling of tea.

To say it was an average game would probably be generous.  After a promising start, it fizzled out, which felt a little like seeing Joey Barton on fire, and then having some jobsworth health and safety officer throw water over him.  The closest we came to goalmoath action was a shout for handball at either end, with Carl Jenkinson and Souleymane Diawara the men lucky to escape censure.

Andre Santos also carlessly handled the ball having already been booked, and was probably lucky not to be sent off.  If you knew nothing of Santos, just five minutes watching him would enable you to guess he was Brazilian.  Plenty of skill and imagination on the ball, but a tendency to overplay and take some quite insane risks.  Needless to say, he is fitting in perfectly at Arsenal.

The basic problem was a lack of quality in the final third.  Marseille lacked ambition; Arsenal urgency.   Andrey Arshavin had been selected ahead of Gervinho but was having a nightmare of a game.  At least he would occasionally find himself on the ball – the same could not be said for Theo Walcott.

The second-half introductions of Johan Djourou and Gervinho for Carl Jenkinson (injured) and Theo Walcott (AWOL) threatened to bring our right-flank to life, but it looked for all intents and purposes as if Arsenal were playing out a creditable 0-0 draw.  I even began composing a blog, now thankfully discarded, which reported the result as fact.

There were positives to be drawn.  Laurent Koscielny was quite outstanding at centre-back, with Per Mertesacker equally assured alongside him.  Ahead of them, Alex Song added to what is becoming an increasingly impressive portfolio of performances this season.  He breaks up the play well, and uses the ball intelligently.  Next to him, Mikel Arteta showed more graft than craft with a number of crucial and crunchy challenges.  The advantage of signing players with Premier League experience is that they usually know how to scrap.

The frustration was that Marseille were clearly there for the taking, if only Arsenal could up their game.  In the end, the man to release the figurative handbrake was subtitute Aaron Ramsey, who collected a Johan Djourou cross, miscontrolled by Gervinho, and fired low in to the near post – the perfect way for him to prepare for a game with Stoke at the weekend.

And so it finished: 1-0 to the Arsenal, with our first clean sheet away from home in Europe since Milan ’08.

Afterwards Arsene said:

“We left it very late but we had a difficult start. We lost some balls in the first half due to the fact Marseille pressed us well.

They didn’t find their fluency but in the second half we took over and I don’t think Marseille were dangerous at all [after half-time]. Marseille defended very well but you could see in the last 15 minutes we created some chances and were rewarded because we kept going and got an important victory.”

It leaves us top of the group, and a win in the return fixture would all but guarantee our qualification to the knockout stage.

Quietly, without anyone taking much notice, Arsenal have won five of their last six games.  It’s not quite a resurgence, but it’s certainly a relief.  Long may it continue.

Vermaelen signs on as Arsenal head to the Velodrome

726 comments October 19th, 2011

On the eve of their tie with Marseille, Arsenal announced some fantastic news: Thomas Vermaelen has signed a long-term deal with the club.  Perhaps mindful of the debt he owes the club after missing the best part of a year with an assortment of injuries, he has become the first of a group of players involved in negotiations – Song, Walcott, Van Persie, Arshavin – to actually put pen to paper.

Vermaelen said:

“I am really happy to have signed a new contract with Arsenal. I always had the intention to stay here. I feel there is a big belief in me from the Club, from the boss and from the fans and that is one of the reasons why I stayed. Arsenal is a fantastic Club. We have great supporters, we’re doing well financially and we are playing with some quality young players now and they will develop, which is very good for the future.”

The vice-captain signing on will hopefully encourage some of the others to do the same, though Van Persie’s age and status mean he will want to delay any decision as long as possible.

Arsene Wenger, meanwhile, called Vermaelen a “special player” and insists the defensive side of our squad is in healthier shape than ever before:

“For me, we have a strong central defence now. Mertesacker is an outstanding player, Koscielny will be an outstanding player – he is slowly getting there – and there is Djourou, Squillaci and Vermaelen.

So this is good news for us. It closes speculation about centre back positions, we have four or five now and that should be enough.”

I can’t be alone in being eager to get Vermaelen back and alongside Per Mertesacker.  They seem to me to be a natural partnership, and one that could provide us with a solid base for years to come.  Assuming, that is, that they stay fit…

From what I understand Vermaelen has a chance of being fit in time for our game at Stamford Bridge next weekend.  Tonight, it will be Laurent Koscielny who continues alongside the big German.  Arsene has said no players will be rested tonight, so the rest of the team picks itself.  Carl Jenkinson will continue at right-back, whilst Andre Santos will come in for the injured Kieran Gibbs.  Santos made a good impact as a substitute on Sunday, so I’m not worried about bringing him in to the team.

The central trio of Song, Arteta and Ramsey should be restored with the Welshman available once again.  Ahead of that, their could be a little rotation.  Van Persie will play through the middle, but it’s possible Andrey Arshavin or Tomas Rosicky could be deployed in one of the wide roles ahead of Gervinho or Walcott.  There’s been a fair bit of talk in the French press about how Gervinho has not yet looked the player he did at Lille; hopefully returning to French soil will encourage him to accelerate his adaptation.

Marseille have had a similarly slow start to their season as us, but they’ve got some exciting players – including playmaker Lucho Gonzalez, who was the subject of a bid from Arsenal shortly before the transfer deadline.  Our group seems to be taking shape with three major players – ourselves, Marseille and Dortmund – so the outcome of tonight’s game will be crucial in determining final league positions.

You can read more of my thoughts on the Marseille game over on  Oooooh, get me.

Right, better get back to work. Come On You Gunners.

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