A comfortable enough 2-0 win last night gives us 12 points in our Champions League group which, under normal circumstances, would be more than enough to see us through. I’m pretty sure we’ve gone through with 10 before.
However, because Dortmund beat Napoli 3-1, it goes to the final game in Naples. We have to avoid a 3-0 defeat to qualify, something that should be well within our control, but football being football you can’t take anything for granted.
I didn’t see the game live and, after reading people talking about it on Twitter, more or less flicked through the highlights of the recording, so some brief thoughts.
The first goal really was really very, very good. It reminded me a little of Lionel Messi. The quick run with the ball, cutting into the box, side-stepping a defender and the deliberate, almost nonchalant precision of the finish high into the net all looked quite effortless. The second, set up by Ozil, showed me a player who is beginning to find some form again. The timing of his run and the coolness to allow the ball roll across his body to stick it home with his left showed a measure of control over the situation.
Afterwards, Arsene Wenger quipped that he was looking at Aaron Ramsey scoring all the time and responding to it, but there’s probably an element of truth to it somewhere. Wilshere’s spiky response to incorrect reports of him being injured during the Interlull suggests he’s tired of being qualified by his knocks and wants to remind people why it was he was the player who everyone had such high hopes for not long ago.
He’s now got 4 goals so far this season (making him 3rd top scorer behind Ramsey and Giroud), and it’s good to see someone else take up the slack when Ramsey failed to score (what a save that was from the Marseille keeper).
‘He takes them like that,” said Arsene Wenger afterwards when questions were asked of his run-up. In fairness, the penalty was pretty tame, the keeper was off his line, and it’s always going to look a bit half-hearted. If it goes in, or the keeper goes the wrong way, people are talking about Ozil’s laid-back quality.
He’s the number 2 penalty taker (behind Arteta, ahead of Giroud), not because he cost all that money, or because we’re trying to make him feel important. It’s because the manager has seen enough on the training pitch and beyond to give him that responsibility. Sometimes you miss penalties when you take a massive run-up. Ask Thierry Henry. Or Dennis Bergkamp. Or Liam Brady.
Still, if the miss was disappointing, he made up for it with an assist for Wilshere’s second goal. Seems a decent response to me.
Accepting the fact that Marseille were pretty rubbish, we were still capable of making three changes without disrupting the rhythm of our side. Flamini for Arteta, Rosicky adding zip and drive to midfield in place of Santi Cazorla, while Nacho Monreal’s weekly cameos mean he’s well and truly up to speed. He came in for the unwell Kieran Gibbs and had a good game at left-back.
We were able to introduce Theo Walcott and Santi Cazorla from the bench, both of whom should have scored when presented with very good chances, but it’s probably a good thing that we can allow them to shake of their rustiness in games like this. Such profligacy might well prove costly in games to come, so the minutes they got last night will do them good.
Szczesny and clean sheets
Another fantastic save in the second half. So much so a certain ITV co-commentator thought it was in, but the Pole’s big hand stopped it dead on the line. I just don’t think it’s any coincidence that our defensive solidity has come a time when our goalkeeper is playing this well. 7amkick off asks ‘Is Szczesny the best keeper in Premier League?‘
He’s certainly the most in-form stopper around and the new contract suggests that our eggs are well and truly in his basket for the long-term. Now it’s down to him to perform at this level on a much more consistent basis. I think he can do that. Four clean sheets in five games now. When’s the last time that happened?
Zzzzzz. Wenger says he won’t do it any more, which is the right thing, but it strikes me that in a period where what’s happening on the pitch gives us little to grumble about, there always has to be ‘something’ for people to get knotted up over.
The qualification scenario
Arsene Wenger says:
It’s unbelievable but it’s reality. We have to finish the job. It is not an easy situation. We have three Premier League games just before we go to Naples so I’ll have to use my squad well without dropping points in the league, and go there with a very strong team.
The idea of going to Naples just to avoid defeat is a ridiculous one. We’ll go there to try and get a positive result, one which hopefully will continue our momentum during a busy period. It’s so unusual not to be through with the points tally we have, but there’s not a single thing we can do about it other than do what’s necessary in a couple of weeks time.
So, in conclusion, a good result, a solid enough performance despite the fact we could, and should, have scored more, and we now put it straight behind us and concentrate on the trip to Cardiff at the weekend. Professional, efficient, no complaints.