By Richard Clarke at Stade Velodrome, Marseille
An injury-time winner from Aaron Ramsey saw Arsenal snatch a sensational win at Marseille on Wednesday night to take control of Champions League Group F.
A tense, tight stalemate seemed to be meandering to a close when Johan Djourou’s raking cross from the right was nudged on by Gervinho to the unmarked Welshman at the far post.
He took a touch to steady himself then fired his side to the top of the table.
It was a goal out of nothing. Before then both defences had been on top and there had been little to split the sides.
Both had seen solid penalty shouts turned down, as well as enjoying one decent chance apiece – Walcott for Arsenal, Lucho Gonzalez for Marseille.
Still, you get what you grab in the Champions League and Arsenal now lead Group F with seven points. Marseille have six, Olympiacos three and Dortmund one.
With two of their three remaining games at Emirates Stadium, Wenger’s side have the fate firmly in their own hands.
And, as far the 'recovery' goes, this was Arsenal's fifth win in their last six matches.
Wenger had promised to field his strongest possible side in, along with the trip to Dortmund, their toughest fixture in Group F. He made two changes from the team that had edged out Sunderland 2-1 at the weekend.
Kieran Gibbs (stomach muscle) was replaced by Andre Santos at left back while Andrey Arshavin was preferred to Gervinho on the left. With Theo Walcott retained on the right and Rosicky in central midfield, it was an attacking selection.
The Stade Velodrome is known for possessing one of Europe’s most partisan atmospheres. It was loud enough this evening despite one of the stands being empty - apart from the 1,400 travelling supporters. The stadium is in the middle of reconstruction work ahead of Euro 2016.
Uefa’s official previews had described Marseille’s 3-0 over Dortmund last time out as “a counter-attacking masterclass”. Certainly the feeling was that they had ceded ample possession to the German champions, ridden their luck but, most importantly, taken their chances.
There was an indication of that last quality after only three minutes this evening when Loic Remy pounced on hesitation by Alex Song just outside the area. The Arsenal midfielder hauled down the winger in a desperate attempt to regain possession and picked up a booking for his troubles. Andre Ayew barely tested Wojciech Szczesny with the free-kick.
At the other end Van Persie dived to nod wide a Theo Walcott cross, unaware that he had been already flagged offside.
However, it was an isolated effort as Arsenal struggled to settle. Marseille bossed the first quarter-hour. Benoit Cheyrou fired over then a left-wing cross from Jeremy Morel hit the hand of Carl Jenkinson at the near post. On another night, it would have been a penalty - Ayew was booked for protesting the decision.
The let-off only served to inspire Arsenal. They staged a five-minute siege on the Marseille goal midway through the half.
First Arteta’s corner had to be punched clear by Steve Mandanda. Then the Spaniard flung in another that Mertesacker nodded back into the area and Van Persie’s header was cleared off the line by Souleymane Diawara. Replays later confirmed the same defender had clearly handled when the initial ball had been played in.
It was now 1-1 in solid penalty shouts.
On the half-hour, Remy shone again on the left for Marseille. He nudged the ball past Mertesacker on the byline then fooled Jenkinson before sending a deflected effort across the face of Szczesny's goal.
Shortly afterwards, Lucho Gonzalez nudged an effort just beyond the far post from Mathieu Valbuena’s clipped in cross.
They were Marseille’s best efforts so far but, in an open game of many half-chances, neither side had really carved out anything clear-cut.
The second half began in similar fashion. A melee in the goal area on the hour typified a game in which the attacking elements had never quite clicked into place.
Remy hoisted the ball into the area where Ayew and Lucho tussled Jenkinson and Mertesacker for a five-second period in which no-one had control of the ball.
Song stepped in with a fine challenge and eventually Jenkinson hacked the ball clear. However, he injured himself in the process and hobbled off. Johan Djourou replaced him.
In the 63rd minute, Arsenal created perhaps their first clear chance at goal. Walcott squeezed the ball past Alou Diarra but could not prod an angled shot past Mandanda from six yards out.
It was the winger’s last act. Two minutes later he was replaced by Gervinho.
The substitutions had done little for Arsenal going forward. As time ticked away both sides seemed to have settled for a point apiece.
Valbeuna fooled Mertesacker on the right but his cross amounted to nothing. All Gervinho’s energy came to no avail.
Ramsey’s strike came with virtually the last kick of the match and was as unexpected as it was welcome. Djourou's searching ball eventually landed at the feet of the Welshman, who cut inside before finishing coolly to seal the points for Wenger's side.
It seems that all Arsenal’s good fortune is reserved for the Champions League at the moment.
But this was a welcome win for a fast-recovering side.
- Jenkinson 62
- Santos Yellow Card
- Song Yellow Card
- Arshavin 78
- Walcott 67
- Djourou 62 Yellow Card
- Ramsey 78 Goal!
- Gervinho 67
- Diawara Yellow Card
- Cheyrou 87
- Gonzalez 73
- Ayew Yellow Card
- Remy 69
- Kabore 87
- Gignac 69 Yellow Card
- Amalfitano 73