No Drama, No Crisis and For Arsenal, No Qualification. Yet.
Arsenal 0 – 0 Marseille
Arsenal’s progress to the knockout phase stalled last night, put on ice for three weeks at least. Marseille’s improvement in form since the sides first met a fortnight ago combined with a tired performance by the hosts to produce a stalemate in North London. Qualification is still in Arsenal’s hands but must wait until Borussia Dortmund visit The Emirates after the international break before being confirmed.
Whether or not it was a good result remains to be seen. In the context of recent events, the outcome is disappointing. The win at Chelsea had set things up nicely, emotions built and as I observed yesterday, these things tend to end in disappointment.
Changes were wrought from the weekend, Robin van Persie relegated to the bench, Park his replacement; Jenkinson was in at right back to continue his footballing education whilst Thomas Vermaelen was voted Man of the Match on his return although that seemed overly generous with Per Mertesacker having a more than decent shout at the award. Even at Arsenal, performances are overlooked for sentimentality and popularity.
The pairing of Mertesacker and Vermaelen looked solid, the latter belying his absences through injury with an assured performance. The German though is starting to raise the bar with his displays; yes, he might lack pace but his reading of the game is exemplary, allowing timely interventions at crucial moments. Their work is helped by Alex Song who is continually improving and a testament to what can be achieved with hard work. Written off by some early in his career, he is protecting the back four well this season along with excellent distribution of the ball when in possession.
Arsenal were not quick out of the blocks, Marseille were with Remy and both Ayew’s going close. Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey responded for Arsenal who took some time to get into their stride. When they did, Gervinho carried the attacking threat Ramsey was pulling the midfield strings. The Welsh international is starting to produce the consistency of performance that was evident before the agricultural intervention of Ryan Shawcross.
Remy reminded Arsenal not to be complacent; Ramsey and Park reminded us of the profligacy in front of goal that haunted the team in previous european campaigns.
There were opportunities for either side but nothing clear cut until the 77th minute when van Persie opted for the audaucious when the clinical would have been a better choice. Vermaelen had a couple of headers that were close but precious little else.
Post-match, Wenger observed that the team was tired but happy with the defensive discipline that kept a clean sheet. It was no thanks to Andre Santos who is doing his best to bring the samba style to Arsenal’s attack, a pity he is employed as a left back. His manager may believe that he has stronger defensive discipline than is thought – and in fairness, he improved as the evening wore on – but consistent performances such as that in the second half would help lose the tag he is gaining of being a buccaneering defender. He really does not want to be buccaneer when he should be buccanthere.
Wenger started with his captain on the bench but was once more unable to give the Dutchman a proper rest. As Wenger pointed out, Park has not played many games recently and is off the pace; that might come but he is not going to be first choice for a while so it is almost a chicken and egg situation. Having impressed with his willingness and finish in the Carling Cup, the Korean’s detractors were handed the initiative once more following last night.
For Wenger, the reliance upon van Persie is a concern. It is approaching Henry proportions during his final seasons at the club. Arsenal cannot afford for that situation to remain in the long term, goals from other sources have to come as opponents seek to nullify van Persie’s threat.
Sometimes results do not go as planned. No doubt this is one of those occasions. There is no drama, no crisis, no qualification. Other opportunities exist for that to happen and I am sure they will be taken.