Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Park woeful - Gervinho's too selfish but Vermaelen and Mertesacker look tasty

Morning Gooners.

I don't think we should be all too doom and gloom today after last night's result. Personally I think it was to be expected that after all our efforts on Saturday to win at Chelsea and then to be back on the pitch to play our second game in four days, we wouldn't reach the highs we experienced at the weekend.

That said we did create chances to score goals and perhaps we should have taken one of them. Marseille aren't a bad team. They've just won three on the bounce coming into last night's game so perhaps Arsene Wenger's target of four points from the two games was a realistic one.

Not continuing on our winning run (eight wins from our last ten games) won't have dented too much confidence in the team but one of the things which most impressed me was us keeping a clean sheet, something we've only achieved six times this season so far (out of 18 games).

Arsene Wenger made three changes to the side which comprehensively beat Chelsea. Carl Jenkinson replaced Johan Djourou at right back, with Thomas Vermaelen taking the place of Laurent Koscielny in the heart of the defence and Ju Young Park handed a chance to lead the attack in place of Robin van Persie.

From the kick off it was the French team which dominated possession and pressed us when we had the ball. They created the better chances and I was impressed by Jordan Ayew, whose trickery on the ball allowed him to get into our box on several occasions.

I had expected Didier Deschamps' men to come at us in the opening period of the game, as Chelsea did last weekend. The French side had nothing to lose by going at us and created the better of the openings in the opening exchanges of the match.

Arsenal came back into the half with strong running from Aaron Ramsey. The Welshman with Mikel Arteta and Alex Song have provided Arsenal with a strong base on which to build on and it was Ramsey who was gain pulling the strings when the Gunners went forward.

Gervinho created the first chance of the match, playing in Theo Walcott whose low drive was tipped around the post.

Santos came forward and swept his way into the box. His cross across goal was perfectly timed for Ramsey who was making a charge at the back post. However the 20-year-old couldn't convert his effort and it went wide.

Gervinho had an opportunity to pass to Walcott when the Englishman was an aches of space but chose not to put the first time pass to the opposite flank. Instead he dithered and played in Ramsey who was crowed out. I think sometimes the Ivorian is too selfish when on the ball. He doesn't play the ball quickly enough when his team mates are in better positions which reduces our chances to score. Maybe we'll see him make better decisions with time. Last night I thought he could have done better in the final third.

That said he did create three chances and I can't knock that. I just hope he doesn't become a player who fails to deliver in the final third. We need him in his most potent form, especially when the manager decides not to play van Persie from the off.

It was a stalemate at half time and it was only a matter of time until questions were asked as to when van Persie would be introduced in the second half.

It didn't take long for the manager to make the change as his team created very little. Vermaelen had a header but beyond that there wasn't much which would trouble the Marseille defence.

For all his running, Park produced very little. He wasn't linking up play but as he doesn't get to start many games I don't think we can expect him to do very much apart from work hard for the team. The fact he didn't have a shot on or off target for the 62 minutes he was on the pitch speaks volumes. When he received the ball, he lost it nearly half the time he tried to pass it on.

Having said all that, we know he can score as he proved in the Carling Cup against Bolton. He just needs games and that's something he's not going to get at Arsenal whilst van Persie is in the form he's been in. But I think he's a useful asset to have on the bench.

So van Persie replaced him. The next substitution surprised me. Four minutes after the Dutchman's introduction, Wenger replaced Ramsey with Tomas Rosicky. Personally I would have liked to have seen van Persie and Ramsey given a little more time on the pitch to see if they could create some opportunities, but it wasn't to be.

The game had very few clear cut opportunities and neither goalkeeper had a difficult save to make. With less than 15 minutes to play, Arsenal's talisman had his one and only opportunity of the game. Rosicky playing a delightful defence splitting ball through to the Dutchman whose chip could not beat Mandanda in the Marseille goal.

The French team came on the stronger in the final ten minutes and it was down to good defending from Mertesacker and Vermaelen that we managed to keep them out. Jenkinson and Santos played their part in preventing dangerous shots being fired at Szczesny's goal, but the central defensive pair showed their quality in the first game they've played alongside one another.

I know that Koscielny was rested last night because of all the games he's played in since the start of the season and the Frenchman has arguably been our best defender this term. But it was interesting to see this partnership in action. I think both players offer us a lot of experience at the highest level and that will prove  to be invaluable as the season progresses.

Where Koscielny fits into the manager's thinking is a tough call to make. He's certainly come on leaps and bounds since joining the club and with all three fit it will be interesting who the manager will pick to be first choice out of the three of them.

It finished 0-0 and all in all it's not the worst result in the world.

Afterwards Arsene Wenger said:
"I felt it was a game where we were not physically at our sharpest. Marseille started stronger than us and after that we got back in the game.  
"In the first half I feel we had opportunities to kill the game. After that we were disciplined, we were willing, but you have to give credit to Marseille - they defended very well. They stopped us from playing and we were not sharp enough to get them out of position.  
"The positives are that we did not concede a goal, Marseille only had one shot on target and overall we know that in the final third we can do better."
A point from the game is not a disaster. If we'd won we would have qualified but I'm sure we can get the results we need against Dortmund and Olympiacos in our final two group games to ensure we win the group.

The Chelsea game certainly paid its part in us not winning last night and I would have liked to have seen the manager give some of the players who weren't involved at the weekend a run out just to freshen things up. But we can't grumble too much given the way we've turned the corner since the start of the season.

Finally, a quick word about the referee. I don't think I've seen an official get in the way of play so much as the Italian referee did last night. He seemed to be in the wrong position all the time, getting in the way of both teams when they were running forward. Perhaps this is a new UEFA tactic which allows both teams to have 12 men defending the ball?

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