18 September 2013

Arsenal 2-1 Marseille: again, Ramsey runs this team

It was the result we wanted and the result we needed. Although it wasn't the prettiest—outshot 17-9, near-even possession, a bit of sloppy defending and luck on the line—we come away with the away-win and the three points. Along the way, a few getting-to-be-familiar performances were joined by a few, new, and welcome ones: Walcott finally scored his first goal of the season, Szczęsny turned in a MotM-worthy performance, Gibbs provided an assist and a goal-line save, and Flamini bossed his way around midfield. With Napoli turning away Dortmund by the same 2-1 scoreline, it was vital that we took all three in what is probably one of the easier legs of the group-stage. Of course, it's not without its downsides: Ramsey picked up a yellow-card early in the second half, and we lost a clean-sheet in the waning moments on a questionable penalty-kick. So it goes. Three points earned.

Had it not been for the yellow-card and the penalty in the 90th minute, we'd be talking about Ramsey yet again as the man of the match. He turned in another trademark display, harassing Marseille all over the pitch, pinging passes around, and, for the sixth time in seven matches, scoring. Instead, we'll be left to fret a bit about that yellow-card, which carries over to the next match. However, rather than fret over the negatives, let's indulge a bit in the positives.

First, as already mentioned, Walcott finally tallied. Coming on the heels of the Sunderland match, one in which he could have and should have gotten a hat-trick, it comes as a tremendous relief to see him score at long last. That it wasn't a typical Walcott-goal is beside the point. After Marseille's Jeremy Morel flubbed a headed clearance in the box, Walcott sized it up and blasted home. Let this be the goal that breaks the seal on Walcott's season—pressing to score, he's wound himself up too tightly and spurned chances that he might otherwise put in the back of the net (let's not forget that a few fine saves have also played a role). Having scored his first goal of the 2013-14 campaign should relieve a bit of the pressure borne of high expectations.

At the other end of the pitch, Wojciech Szczęsny turned in another fine performance, including a number of vital saves on some very difficult shots, and he very nearly came up with a save on the game-ending penalty, accurately predicting the direction of the shot and almost getting fingertips to a nearly-perfect shot. Had he come up with a deflection, or an outright save, we'd have a keeper who'd gone two for two on PK's (even if Benteke managed to gather the rebound in week one). Not bad. Not bad at all.

Of course, he had some help, most notably when Kieran Gibbs came up with a header to clear the line after a bit of scrabble saw Szczęsny come off his line only to see Per scuff the clearance. As the ball went skyward and towards the goal, Gibbs ran in and managed to head the ball backwards and out of goal for Szczęsny to gather. Tense moments, to be sure. and one that leaves us thankful that Gibbs hadn't been to the barber before the game.

If there's any disappointment to be had, perhaps it lies in the possibility that we hoped to see more from Giroud or Özil. Giroud was a non-factor at least in the direct sense, turning in only one shot (although his movement in and around the box was notable). Similarly, Özil was decent but not dominant. Let's hope that each is still shrugging off the lingering effects of their respective injuries (Giroud's knee or ankle, Özil's illness) and will return to form sooner rather than later.

All in all, not much to quibble with; a fine result that bags us three points of the ten Arsène suggests we need to advance. Dortmund traveled to Napoli and lost 2-1, not that this is a shocker, but it does ratchet up the tension around Dortmund's remaining fixtures just a bit. Before we square off with them, we'll host Napoli on 2 October, sandwiched between trips to face Swansea (28 September) and West Brom (5 October). Tricky stuff, that.  However, with the run we're on, fifteen wins from eighteen matches, I reserve the right to feel confident moving forward. We have a few days to catch our collective breath before hosting Stoke on Sunday.

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