Arsenal's Champions League campaign got off to a winning start with a game of few chances in France, as they beat Marseille 2-1 on Wednesday night.
Very odd performance from Arsenal. They started slowly, didn't pass well, but showed great mental strength and took their chances. Weird.— Iain Macintosh (@iainmacintosh) September 18, 2013
The first half was an exceedingly tight and tense affair, with few chances at either end.
Few opportunities were created despite the best efforts of Mathieu Valbuena in particular, but a couple of headers from Andre Ayew and Pierre-Andre Gignac momentarily gave Arsenal trouble. Wojciech Szczesny also had to be alert to save a couple of long-range efforts.
At the other end, the Gunners had a fair shout for a penalty when Per Mertesacker took a high boot to the head after a corner. Nothing was given, though, and Steve Mandanda had a very quiet half in goal for the home side.
After the break, Marseille immediately had a chance, as Rod Fanni flashed a volley wide of the far post while Dimitri Payet also became more influential and tried his luck on more than one occasion.
Kieran Gibbs had Arsenal's best chance of the match, as he burst into the box to shoot from close range, but Mandanda was equal to the task.
It was left to Theo Walcott to break the deadlock just after the hour mark, as he volleyed home from the right side of the box following a defensive mistake from the home side. It was Walcott's first strike of the season and well worth the wait.
Marseille probed and pushed players forward, but Szczesny was still far from overworked as the match went on. The biggest scare was a mis-kicked clearance from Mertesacker which lobbed his own keeper and had to be cleared off the line.
Aaron Ramsey burst through the middle late to seal the win with a driven, low finish, wrapping up an impressive display and hard-fought three points for Arsenal.
6 - Aaron Ramsey has now scored six goals in his last six appearances for Arsenal. Rampant.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 18, 2013
There was one late scare left when substitute Jordan Ayew tucked home a penalty for the home side in injury time, but Marseille had left it too late to mount any kind of a comeback.
Key Player Grades
Aaron Ramsey: B+
Ramsey got through an immense amount of work in the centre of Arsenal's midfield, especially during the first half when Marseille had the better of the ball.
After the break, as Arsenal tried to push on more themselves, he was a constant outlet and continued his excellent run of form in front of goal with the all-important second marker.
Mathieu Valbuena: B+
Far and away Marseille's biggest threat, Valbuena constantly pushed forward with the ball at his feet and looked for his teammates to make the runs which mattered—something which they failed to do too often.
A few long-range efforts were about the best he could come up with in terms of shots, but without him Marseille would have been largely redundant as an attacking force.
Mesut Ozi: C+
This wasn't always the easiest game for Ozil to find space in, with the midfield extremely congested and not too many runners for him to pick out with probing passes.
Even so, he was involved in much of Arsenal's better attacking chances and linked up well with Gibbs on a clever backheel that gave the left-back a chance to shoot in the second half.
After just one game, there is still much work for Arsenal to do to make it through a tough group, but three points away from home are as much as they could ask for.
The Gunners are home to Napoli next time out, with Marseille playing Dortmund away.