Daily Archives: October 20, 2011

10 lessons learnt from Arsenal’s clash with Olympique Marseille

The match between Olympique Marseille and Arsenal wasn’t a tie that blew everyone away. For starters, both sides were struggling in their domestic leagues and their managers had come under strong criticism from the media Vultures of both countries.

Caution and patience were two virtues that were exhibited by Arsenal while their French hosts were resilient in their approach to the game. There were no real standout performers ‘in quote’ but Marseille’s Mathieu Valbuena was a nuisance for the Arsenal defense. Loic Remy also had a moment on the touch-line that made him seem like Thierry Henry for a split second and Andre Ayew spent more times on the ground or arguing with the match official for infringements not given.

From an Arsenal perspective, Wojciech Szczesny had another boring day at the office but he delivered when he was called into action. Carl Jenkinson put up a number of crosses but a large percentage of them hit a defender and ended up as throw-ins. Arsenal also had a large chunk of corners but they didn’t really threaten with anyone except the Robin van Persie header that was cleared off the line by Souleymane Diawara.

I’ll like to give my take on 10 lessons that were learnt from the clash between Arsenal and Marseille.

The referee’s inconsistency

Damir Skomina from Slovenia wasn’t all that bad as a ref in yesterday’s game but he made some decisions that would have altered the course of the game. He was quite lenient with Alex Song and Andre Santos but the yellow card to Johan Djourou was an appalling decision. He also missed out on a deliberate handball by Souleymane Diawara in the box from a Mikel Arteta corner.

Bad refereeing decisions have been an issue with Arsenal over the years and a simple tackle from Djourou afterwards might have gotten him sent off but that never happened though.

Marseille’s resolute defense

Nicolas N’ Koulou and Souleymane Diawara are not household names in world football but they gave a good account of themselves against a lethal forward like Robin van Persie. The full backs Jeremy Morel and Cesar Azpilicueta were even more impressive as they locked Andrey Arshavin and Theo Walcott in cages and threw the keys away.

Laurent Koscielny’s anticipation skills

The French centre back came back to familiar surroundings and he proved his mettle once again to Arsene Wenger. There was a pivotal moment of the game when Alex Song decided to go nuts and dribble his way out from his box only to be blocked by a Marseille player; up stepped Koscielny to read the game superbly and take the ball out to safety.

Alex Song’s decision making

I can’t deny the fact that Alex Song has grown into a very fine defensive midfielder but he still makes some mistakes that can be likened to the play of a toddler. In only the third minute of the game, Song had a lot of teammates to pass the ball to but he dallied on it only to be robbed by an opponent and he ended up picking a silly yellow card for a late tackle afterwards.

Song was also suspect in Arsenal’s box after doing well to win the ball in the six-yard box; he decided to dribble his way out instead of launching the ball to orbit. If Koscielny wasn’t present in the box, Marseille would have gone one up.

Arsenal’s injury proneness

With a club like Arsenal, registering only 25 players cannot be enough to play all season long in a grueling league like the English Premier League. Arsenal had lost key figures like Jack Wilshere, Thomas Vermaelen and Bacary Sagna coming into this tie and it seems as if Carl Jenkinson has joined the list of players that have booked an appointment in Arsenal’s treatment room.

Andrey Arshavin’s poor performance

Oh my.

Andrey Arshavin should be given a real award for his level of inconsistency at the club because it’s second to none. When he came on as a sub against Sunderland, he showed good movement and was heavily involved in the proceedings of the match.

Wenger gives him a shot ahead of Gervinho then he decides to give a performance that will earn him a place in the bench when Arsenal hosts Stoke on Saturday. To think that he was the same Arshavin that took the Premier League by storm and bagged four past Pepe Reina when Arsenal visited Anfield.

For a player like Arshavin, I still believe that form is temporary and class is permanent though.

Gervinho’s trickery

Gervais Yao Kouassi has certainly been a big hit at Arsenal and he showed what he was made of in the few minutes he had to spare at the Stade Velodrome. There was a lovely moment on the right flank when he waltzed past the full back and hugged play in the touch-line only to be intercepted by the defender.

However, he played a slight part in Arsenal’s winner because his mistimed control of the ball guided it well to Aaron Ramsey’s path and the rest they say…………was history.

Steve Mandanda’s commanding performance

Steve Mandanda is currently the number two French goalie behind Hugo Lloris but he made the box his own every time Arsenal played a corner kick with series of catches and punches that were long enough to reach the centre line.

He also made some vital saves from Theo Walcott and Robin van Persie but he was finally beaten by Wales’ version of Sylvester Stallone, Aaron Rambo.

Arsenal’s lack of threat from outside the box

This has been a familiar story regarding Arsenal and tonight was no different. There were times when Alex Song and Tomas Rosicky had chances to let one rip from outside the 18-yard box but they chose to pass it to a teammate and the play ended up dying.

Arsenal has to resurface the habit of shooting from outside the box because teams tend to drop deeper when defending against the Gunners. When Chelsea hosted Genk, Raul Meireles showed the Belgian side why it’s a football sin to back off from a player like him when he’s in shooting distance.

The goalie didn’t even move to make the goal a lot sweeter.

Arsene Wenger’s tactical proficiency

Le Boss has been at the helm of affairs of this London club for 15 years and he showed that he knew when the timing was right to make a sub as well as the player meant to be subbed.

Johan Djourou for Carl Jenkinson was a swap that had to happen because of injury but Theo Walcott and Andrey Arshavin had to be removed from the pitch because they turned out to be peripheral figures as the game progressed. Everybody expected Arshavin to be replaced by Gervinho but Wenger opted for Walcott first because he believed that Arshavin still had something to offer.

Aaron Ramsey came in for Arshavin when he became truly ineffectual and it was an ace in the deck that was played well by the boss because Ramsey scored what proved to be the match winner with seconds to spare.

Arsenal grabbed the win against the French outfit to leapfrog them to the summit of Group F with 7 points from three games played. It’s funny to know that Arsenal managed 7 points from 7 games played in the Premier League before the win against Sunderland.

Well that’s football for you.


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Olympique Marseille 0 Arsenal 1: Aaron Ramsey makes the trip worthwhile

Olympique Marseille and Arsenal were suffering from the same case of mediocrity in their respective leagues and dominance in Europe. Marseille ended last season as runners-up to the French Ligue 1 behind Gervinho’s former employers but they are uncharacteristically 14 points off the pace while their London counterparts are currently 12 points behind Manchester City with just eight games gone.

Marseille surprisingly had a miserly home defense in the Champions League as Chelsea and Manchester United visited the Stade Velodrome and couldn’t score a goal while Arsenal had not recorded an away clean sheet in the Champions League since that famous 2-0 victory in San Siro three and half years ago.

Andrey Arshavin got the nod ahead of Gervinho and Aaron Ramsey was fit enough to make it to the bench whilst Kieran Gibbs remained out.

With just three minutes gone, Alex Song produced a horror moment where he was robbed off the ball after dwelling on it only to receive a yellow card for a tackle he made trying to recover the ball back. Mathieu Valbuena lofted the free kick in but Wojciech Szczesny was equal to the challenge. Shortly afterwards, a cross field ball was sent to Lucho Gonzalez’ path but Laurent Koscielny came across to anticipate the ball only to receive a shout from his goalie so the Frenchman ducked as Szczesny caught the ball.

The last time Koscielny and Szczesny were involved in a mix-up, Arsenal lost their best shot of a trophy on the 27th of February, 2011.

Song sent a ball to Theo Walcott who controlled it well before swinging it into the box. Robin van Persie got on the end of the cross but he strayed fractionally offside. On the other end of the pitch, Bruno Cheyrou was unmarked from a throw-in but his effort sailed effortlessly over the bar.

The first major talking point of the match arrived when Carl Jenkinson allegedly handed a cross inside the box but the man with the whistle was having none of it. Andre Ayew was the closest on the crime scene and he was quick to let out his frustrations vocally on the ref only to be brandished with a yellow card.

Vabuena made mince meat of Andre Santos on the right flank but the Brazilian full back decided to exert his revenge on the French elf before getting his name in the Slovenian referee’s book. Song and Mikel Arteta combined well before teeing up Jenkinson but his proposed cross for van Persie was intercepted by Souleymane Diawara for a corner kick.

Arsenal had a series of corners that were handled well by the Marseille defense but another talking point surfaced when Diawara deliberately handled the ball inside the box before clearing the ball off the line when van Persie’s header beat Steve Mandanda fair and square.

Walcott used his blistering pace to great effect as he dribbled past Jeremy Morel but his ball in the final third was blocked off for another corner that yielded no fruit. A major concern came from the Arsenal bench when Jenkinson hit the turf while clutching his knee. Johan Djourou warmed up a bit but his services were not needed because Jenkinson continued with the game.

Out of the blue, Loic Remy used his pace to keep the ball in play before jinking past Per Mertesacker to advance into the Arsenal box. Jenkinson ran at the player with the hope of winning the ball but Remy skipped past him too before Song arrived on the scene to mop up any threat that ultimately led to Marseille’s first corner of the game.

Laurent Koscielny showed some uncertainty with a panicky clearance that went in for a throw-in. Cesar Azpilicueta pelted it to Valbuena and the French hobbit’s cross arrived on the feet of Lucho but his effort went wide.

That was all the first half had to offer and Marseille were sitting pretty at the top at that point of the game. Arsenal started as the brighter side after the interval and a pass by Tomas Rosicky which was intended for van Persie was anticipated by Mandanda.

Jenkinson couldn’t continue with the tie so Johan Djourou came in his stead. Song sent a nice pass to van Persie but Mandanda did well to save the Arsenal captain’s low drive that came off his fabled chocolate leg. Rosicky did extremely well to create a through pass for Walcott but his finish was quite atrocious.

The pacey Englishman was replaced by Gervinho who added wit to Arsenal’’s play from the flanks. The ref’s performance was put under question when he awarded a card to Djourou for a tackle that was won fairly by the Swiss brick wall.

Late on, Arsene Wenger brought Aaron Ramsey back into the fold to replace the peripheral Andrey Arshavin. Valbuena made Per Mertesacker show him his number before drilling a ball that was anticipated by Laurent Koscielny.

Gervinho made a good run before feeding van Persie but his shot was saved by Marseille’s goalie. At the 90th minute of play, I’d already prepared a title for today’s post:

Olympique Marseille 0 Arsenal 0: The Gunners show lack of quality and confidence perhaps?

But it was smashed to bits when Djourou produced a cross Bacary Sagna and Jenkinson would have been proud of that arrived at the foot of Ramsey and the Welsh captain wasted no time in smashing it past the onrushing Mandanda to win the game for Arsenal right at the death.

Football is all about moments like that and it was a joy to behold.

Ramsey’s goal meant a lot to Arsenal at this critical stage of the season. For starters, it was Arsenal’s first away clean sheet since the famous 2-0 win against AC Milan in March 2008, it was a goal that was going to raise the confidence of the players, It signified that Arsenal had recorded an away win and they have been hard to come by nowadays and it has brought Ramsey to the spotlight for all the right reasons.

Szczesny (6.5) had an untroubled outing but did okay under the circumstances.

Jenkinson (7.0) made a large amount of crosses and supported Walcott superbly on the right hand side.

Andre Santos (6.5) didn’t offer much in attack and had his lucky stars thank when the referee left him on the pitch.

Koscielny (7.5) was very impressive in defense and made many vital interceptions.

Mertesacker (6.5) was on the end of some disgraceful dribbles against the opposition but he did okay for make some challenges in the course of the game.

Song (6.5) put his team under pressure in the game and was lucky that his mistakes were not utilized by the opposition.

Arteta (7.0) coordinated himself well and was always available for a pass.

Rosicky (7.5) showed good movement on the ball and defended well off it.

Arshavin (5.5) was painful to watch.

Walcott (6.0) eased off as the game progressed.

Van Persie (6.5) lacked good service but did well to get on the end of some moves that ended up being offside.

Djourou (7.5) provided a brilliant assist.

Gervinho (7.0) added some steel to the attack.

Ramsey (7.5) was Arsenal’s hero at the end of the encounter despite being on the pitch for a short while.

The fans chanted the ‘One Nil to the Arsenal’ song and the winning run that Arteta hoped for is currently ongoing. A win against Stoke will be highly welcome before Arsenal hosts Bolton in the Carling Cup.

As Jordin Spark said in her hit song,

It’s one step at a time for Wenger’s men.


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