In a match where little separates two sides, all it can take to make the difference is a solitary moment of individual class. Last night in Marseille, it was Aaron Ramsey who provided that moment, drilling home a 92nd-minute winner to give Arsenal a vital 1-0 win and send them top of their Champions League group.
Despite the attacking threats on both sides, there was a severe lack of end product over the course of the evening, but Ramsey’s fine finish made the Gunners worthy winners. Arsenal statistics showed five shots on target out of six total, while only two of Marseille’s shots were on target, and Arsenal also held a 55-45 edge in possession.
While Ramsey’s winner naturally picks up the lion’s share of the post-match attention, the Gunners may not have been in a position to win were it not for their staunch defending. Given their well-documented defensive issues away from home, that was a key factor for success against Marseille, and the back line did indeed rise to the occasion, led by a man-of-the-match effort from Laurent Koscielny. Koscielny has had his ups and downs since joining Arsenal in the summer of last year, but he put in perhaps his best performance in an Arsenal shirt at the Stade Velodrome, standing firm every time Marseille attempted to threaten in his vicinity.
Both sides were up to the task defensively from the start, but it didn’t hurt that both sides were tamer in attack than expected, with few clear-cut chances being created. In the first half, Marseille looked the more likely of the two to break the deadlock, and Arsenal were let off the off in the 12th minute when Carl Jenkinson appeared to handle a Jeremy Morel cross in the penalty area. Fortunately for the visitors and anything but for the hosts, referee Damir Skomina didn’t point to the spot, and to boot, he booked Marseille forward Andre Ayew for protesting.
Considering the final result, Marseille might feel that moment proved to be decisive, but they were presented with an excellent opportunity to go ahead shortly before the hour mark when Loic Remy played an excellent ball into the box, and Arsenal had all sorts of trouble clearing the ball away, but two Marseille players were unable to get a clear shot off before Alex Song finally removed the danger.
Arsenal had their own golden opportunity minutes later, when Theo Walcott slid in past Nicolas N’Koulou to position himself for a close-range effort. However, it was a rather poor effort from a tight angle, and Mandanda blocked easily to keep the match at 0-0.
It looked like the Champions League match was headed for a goalless stalemate, but Ramsey changed that by being in the right place at just the right time. Johan Djourou put in a cross into the box that was intended for fellow substitute Gervinho, but he wasn’t able to control it. However, it fell right into the path of a completely unmarked Ramsey, who drilled a low drive past Mandanda to dramatically send Arsenal ahead with the three added minutes nearly up.
Ramsey said of his goal:
“The cross came in and I sort of gambled it might come to the far post. I had a bit of time to think about it, but luckily for me it went in.”
He also spoke of the confidence boost that such a vital away win could bring, saying:
“We’ve had two wins now. Hopefully now we can carry that on and keep that going.”
Arsene Wenger echoed his midfielder’s comments, saying:
“For the qualification it’s a very important goal, for the confidence as well.”
“Marseille defended in a very disciplined way, but you could see in the last 15 minutes we started to create opportunities. We showed patience and discipline.
“Everyone questioned how we would cope defensively tonight and I think we did well. The spirit is good and slowly our game becomes stronger.”
The only negative in the match was an injury to Jenkinson, who exited after an hour with what was apparently a knee injury. On Jenkinson’s injury, Wenger said, “He had a little knee problem so we hope it’s not serious. He overstretched his knee.”
However, it didn’t look serious enough to put a real damper on what is an important away win for Arsenal, not only because it moves them into the driver’s seat in Group B, but because it could serve as a springboard for the Gunners to get these kinds of results away from home on a much more consistent basis. After a slow start, the team’s confidence appears to be improving, and if they can continue to build off of that, it only bodes well for the future.
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