It was not the prettiest of games, it was not the most intriguing of games, but it had the perfect ending.
Arsenal travelled to France off the back of a tough, but deserved, 2-1 victory over Sunderland at the Emirates on Sunday. The club brought with them a following of 1,400, and they stood out unlike ever before at the Stade Velodrome tonight as vast swathes of the ground laid bare as construction works continues in preparation for its hosting of Euro group games in 2016.
However, the home support was as loud and as faithful as ever, and were given something to shout about as early as the third minute. Alex Song turned blind and had no option but to haul down Loic Remy who was in on goal. The referee was quick to flash a yellow card, but, thankfully for Arsenal, that was the only punishment served as Mathieu Valbuena shot straight at Wojciech Szczesny in goal.
Song’s yellow was to be the first of many for both sides as the referee went about dishing out the cards. First, Remy saw yellow after he over protested when Marseille were denied a penalty when it seemed Carl Jenkinson handled in the box. Two minutes later it was Andre Santos’ turn to go into the referee’s book after he body checked the ever dangerous Valbuena. The Brazilian was lucky to stay on the pitch later on in the half when he blatantly handled the ball near the sideline, the match official decided on some leniency.
The flurry of cards was not an indication that this was a dirty affair; in fact it was largely clean, and very dull.
Both sides had half-chances.
Robin van Persie saw his looping header cleared off the line as Arsenal put the hosts under some pressure from a succession of corners. Down the other end, Remy’s pace was causing some trouble and it was his commitment that created a half chance. First he nutmeged Per Mertesacker before going by Jenkinson, however the Finnish youth international got back to get a decisive touch on Remy’s shot and take it out for a corner.
The next hour of football saw the same half chances been created with neither side looking like creating a real opener.
Theo Walcott did scupper a great opportunity when put clean in on goal by Thomas Rosicky, he was replaced soon after. Down the other end, the excellent Laurent Koscielny dealt with anything Marseille threw his way, and Szczesny was never bothered in the Arsenal goal.
And so it looked like petering out into a scoreless draw that both teams looked happy to take, until Arsenal finally got a bit of luck this season as the Gunners’ three substitutes combined to nick a win at the end.
Johann Djourou, on for the injured Jenkinson, broke down the right and whipped in a ball which got the faintest of flicks from Gervinho. The ball fell kindly to the on-rushing Aaron Ramsey who slotted it home with confidence.
With little time left on the clock, Arsenal played out the remaining seconds to secure the three points and now sit top of Group F after Olympiakos defeated Borussia Dortmund in Greece.
Arsenal now have two home games against Marseille and Dortmund to secure qualification before heading to Greece for the last group game. Things may be uncertain at home, but in Europe, the Gunners are doing just fine.
MOTM: Laurent Koscielny