Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Weary Gunners draw blank in bid to secure knockout place

Agony: Arsenal's Aaron Ramsey reacts to a missed header on goal during last night's game with Marseille in the Champions League

Arsenal 0 - 0 Marseille

Arsenal's progression to the Champions League knockout stages will have to wait for another night after they struggled to a drab draw with Marseille.

The north Londoners had come into the Group F encounter hoping for the victory that would see them progress to the knockout stages for the 12th successive season, although a mixture of resolute defending and poor finishing put paid to that.

Arsenal looked weary from the exertions of Saturday's 5-3 victory at Chelsea and lacked the cutting edge brought by talisman Robin van Persie, who last night started on the bench against the French outfit.

While the home side were frustrated at their inability to emulate last month's win at the Stade Velodrome, a point was the least Marseille deserved from a plucky performance.

Didier Deschamps' side started with a free-flowing attacking formation in which brothers Andre and Jordan Ayew shone, especially in a first half they dominated for the most part.

Arsenal managed to keep the visitors at bay but the majority of the 59,961 crowd at the Emirates Stadium were sent home disappointed, with a Van Persie chip the only opportunity of note in a poor second period.

Heading into the clash, Arsene Wenger made two changes to the side that beat Chelsea at the weekend.

Johan Djourou and captain Van Persie were dropped to the bench, with Carl Jenkinson and Park Ju-young coming in in their place.

Marseille also made two changes to their starting line-up, bringing in Mathieu Valbuena and Alou Diarra.

The pair's inclusion was part of OM’s attack-minded philosophy and one that almost paid dividends immediately. Andre Ayew jinked down the left and fired in a low cross that brother Jordan almost flicked home within the opening minutes.

Marseille continued to dominate the opening exchanges as the Ayew brothers dazzled Arsenal's backline, with Andre poking just wide after some neat interplay in the fifth minute.

Theo Walcott was denied by a sprawling Steve Mandanda save at the other end and Gervinho was next to test the Marseille captain, before a deep cross by Andre Santos was almost converted at the back post by Aaron Ramsey.

Arsenal were now controlling play and looking dangerous on the break and, after Gervinho saw a drive stopped superbly by Mandanda, hesitation saw Park and then Ramsey waste decent opportunities to score.

The second period started in the same manner in which the opening 45 minutes ended, with Arsenal dominating possession but failing to create any clear chances.

Gervinho and Park were both struggling to produce the moment of magic that would force an equaliser, which led Wenger to replace the latter with talisman Van Persie in the 62nd minute.

The Holland international received a standing ovation from the home faithful on his introduction, as did Ramsey when he was replaced by Tomas Rosicky.

Neither side showed any cutting edge and the match seemed set for a draw, leading Wenger to make his last roll of the dice with Gervinho replaced by Andrey Arshavin.

Moments later, out of nothing, Van Persie wriggled free only to waste the best opportunity of the half. The Arsenal skipper was released by an exquisite through-ball from Rosicky, although his audacious chip was thwarted with ease by Mandanda — and it was to be the Gunners' only chance of note as the clock ran down.

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