Monday 27 March 2017

Ramsey late show steals it for the Gunners

Gunners fail to inspire but move a step closer after last-gasp heroics
Marseille 0 Arsenal 1

Aaron Ramsey scores the winning goal for Arsenal. Photo: Getty Images
Aaron Ramsey scores the winning goal for Arsenal. Photo: Getty Images

Jeremy Wilson

They remain flimsy and only barely visible but, after such a torrid start to the season, there are now palpable signs at Arsenal of some green shoots of recovery.

Yes, they were rescued at times last night by a combination of defensive resilience and outright good luck, but the way they ruthlessly snatched their injury-time victory provides genuine hope.

Aaron Ramsey applied the finishing touch with what was his first touch and just about the last kick of the match.

Since the trauma of their 8-2 humiliation against Manchester United, Arsenal have also now put forward a respectable sequence of six wins, one draw and two defeats.

The recovery is still far from complete, especially as the club's injury problems were compounded last night by a hamstring strain to Carl Jenkinson, but there is now at least a platform on which to build.

This win is also hugely significant for Arsenal's wider chances of progressing beyond Group F of the Champions League. They have now taken four points from their two most difficult group fixtures and are well placed to progress.

Even with one side of the Stade Velodrome being renovated in preparation for Euro 2016, the atmosphere supported Arsene Wenger's belief that Marseille remains the most passionate football city in France.

With Gervinho dropped to the bench, Theo Walcott, Andrey Arshavin and Tomas Rosicky were all granted freedom to roam forward in support of Robin van Persie. That carried the obvious risk of isolating Alex Song, with Arsenal fortunate in the fourth minute when Loic Remy appeared to have made a decisive break behind their defence. Song responded with a desperate lunge in what amounted to the cynical acceptance of a booking in return for upending Remy.

Arsenal again rode their luck 10 minutes later. Jeremy Morel had found space down the left and delivered a cross which bounced off the arm of Jenkinson.

Marseille appealed with understandable conviction, but referee Damir Skomina gave the benefit of the doubt to Arsenal.

Despite only one win in 10 league matches, Marseille began their Champions League campaign with two consecutive victories and continued to exhibit their European rather than domestic form.

With Mathieu Valbuena and Lucho Gonzalez outstanding, Arsenal were being overrun in midfield and largely reduced to counter-attacks. Van Persie and Walcott carried the greatest threat, with the Arsenal captain forcing Souleymane Diawara to head one looping header off the line.

The pattern, though, of Marseille pressure continued. Remy, who has been likened by Wenger to a young Thierry Henry, justified that comparison as he dribbled past Jenkinson and Per Mertesacker but just failed to deliver a clinical pass.

Motion

Mertesacker, in particular, was being made to look like he was moving in slow-motion. Valbuena then crossed accurately behind the Arsenal defence, but Gonzalez just failed to apply sufficient contact to threaten Wojciech Szczesny in the Arsenal goal.

The need to improve their retention of possession was repeatedly stressed by Wenger and, as the second half unfolded, it appeared that the message was beginning to get through. Mikel Arteta and Rosicky, anonymous for long periods, began to see rather more of the ball, with the best chance falling to Walcott. He had pounced on a mistake by Nicolas N'Kolou but his low shot was saved by the foot of Steve Mandanda.

Jenkinson, once again, survived a penalty appeal when the ball bounced off Gonzalez and on to his shoulder. From a frantic resulting clearance, he landed heavily on his right leg and came off clutching his hamstring.

It leaves Arsenal without any recognised right-backs, forcing Johan Djourou to come on as a temporary solution in that position.

Arsenal, though, ended stronger and, with both teams seemingly satisfied with a draw, Ramsey finished clinically after Gervinho had flicked Djourou's cross into his path. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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