After all the pre-game permutations and complications, it now looks rather easy for Arsenal. It certainly was on the night.
As a consequence of this elementary 2-0 win over Marseille as well as Borussia Dortmund’s 3-1 victory against Napoli, Arsene Wenger’s side must simply draw in Naples on the final day to finish top of the group and avoid so many of the top teams that have trumped them in the recent past.
Even a two-goal defeat to Napoli would at least put them in the last 16 for the 14th consecutive season.
“Overall we were always in control of the game,” Wenger said.
“Twelve points from five games is a good number of points and I’m confident we can take another point or three in Naples.
“It’s an interesting one, a difficult one, but we have played other difficult games away from home against difficult opponents and have done well so that’s what we have to put in our mind.”
It took just 30 seconds to set Arsenal on their way last night. Within moments of the game starting, the commanding Jack Wilshere was afforded the freedom of the entire right side. He maximised the space by picking his spot with a curled effort around Steve Mandanda.
Wilshere may have had it easy, but he also made it look exquisite.
Arsenal also deserve credit for displaying such immediate urgency, despite the laxness of a hugely disappointing Marseille.
It was something of the “paradox” to this fixture, as Wenger himself intimated on the eve of the game.
Although Marseille’s struggle to pick up a single point notionally gives everyone else two facile games, it also created a contradictory pressure around this fixture because Arsenal could simply not afford to drop points and therefore lose definite ground.
Here, Wenger’s side stepped up to try and secure victory straight away. They should even have had a second just minutes after Wilshere’s opening goal, with the midfielder this time turning supplier. After Olivier Giroud had nutmegged the hapless Lucas Mendes, the ball was worked through to Wilshere who squared for Aaron Ramsey. The Welshman was denied by Mandanda, who was just about the only visiting player putting in a performance of value. Even then, it was almost as if the move was so easy for Arsenal that it began to condition a certain casualness once they had gone ahead.
Marseille certainly didn’t help themselves — or, for that matter, Dortmund or Napoli. Undeniably looking to his side’s recent upsurge in domestic form — as well as Friday night’s game against Montpellier — manager Elie Baup left five first-team players on the bench, despite losing Dimitri Payet and Andre Ayew to injury. The back-up players starting never looked like getting close enough to the Arsenal box, let alone finishing.
The latter did become something of an issue for Arsenal for a time, however, with that period also raising the one slight concern out of an otherwise hugely satisfying performance.
In between Ramsey gorgeously chipping over the Marseille defence and Giroud twice battering the ball into the body of the defiant Mandanda, Ozil was afforded the opportunity to hit the second goal as stand-in taker for a 38th-minute penalty.
Ramsey had been taken down, even if the foul was outside the box, but the German still couldn’t put it in the net.
Reflecting an apparent inability to fully apply himself in recent games, Ozil somewhat meekly hit the ball at an easy height for Mandanda.
Of course, the miss will only perpetuate some of the questions that Wenger faced about his record signing’s form on Monday, and that is perhaps understandable. Ozil is not at his best.
At the same time, it also seemed somewhat inevitable he was going to suffer a dip at some point.
The German didn’t just have to deal with a relatively disrupted pre-season and so much uncertainty over his future, but also an adjustment to a new league, country and football.
While all the energy and excitement of Ozil’s move perhaps helped him coast through the first few weeks, there was always going to be a bit of a catch-up and stutter.
For the moment, and for all the questions, it is nothing to be worried about in the long term.
As if to emphasise that, Ozil played a key part in the game’s clinching move. After another flowing Arsenal passage of passing, the number-11 squared for Wilshere to get his second and put the club well on course for first in the table.
In that, it was not just a night when Wenger’s side took control of the group, but also one where the English midfielder again took command on the pitch.
Marseille may have finally created a few opportunities late on, most notably when Per Mertesacker had to clear off the line, but the chances of Arsenal being eliminated now look exceedingly slim.
ARSENAL: Szczesny 7; Sagna 7, Mertesacker 8, Koscielny 7, Monreal 7; Ramsey 7, Flamini 7; Wilshere 9 (Walcott 75), Ozil 7 (Arteta 78), Rosicky 8 (Cazorla 75); Giroud 7
MARSEILLE: Mandanda 8; Abdallah 6, N’Koulou 5, Mendes 5, Morel 5; Lemina 5 (Cheyrou 82), Romao 5; Ayew 5 (Valbuena 57), Imbula 5 (Thauvin 57), Khalifa 5; Gignac 5
Ref: Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz (Spain).
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